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Mobility & Automotive

Leading the Future of Mobility: The Human Challenges Ahead

Culture, Purpose and Process all arise as key considerations for talent as the industry sees new disrupting trends

  • March 2022

With breakthrough technologies in autonomous vehicles, electrification and artificial intelligence capturing the headlines around new mobility, the industry’s future rests on smart, creative choices around talent and leadership. 

Egon Zehnder interviewed five of today’s top mobility executives to discover their views on the marketplace and learn how they are shifting their behaviors for the disruptions to come. The following areas are their critical priorities.

Pick the Right Leaders and Create the Right Teams

In a post-lockdown world, the war for talent is fierce, and leaders must be willing to take creative decisions. “The kind of person you put in a leadership role has evolved,” said one mobility executive. “A few years ago, I looked for truly entrepreneurial folks who could build something from scratch. That’s changed because of significant global/market challenges.” He added, “I’m now looking for people who think differently: Maybe they still have a bit of that entrepreneurial drive and spirit but they are primarily focused on organizing appropriately and creating the right processes, tools, and methods.” 

As the mobility sector looks for new, creative leaders, some say they’ve reworked their recruiting process to ensure they’re attracting talent capable of leadership in a disrupted era. One manager said his organization spends a significant part of the interview process engaging with the candidate. His company wants to see if applicants are open to new, perhaps unfamiliar ideas. They also want to discover if the applicant can collaborate — and how well that candidate can “zoom out” to see the larger picture within the mobility industry. 

Today’s mobility leaders will have to engage across skills and specialties. “For prospective top leaders, I need to understand their ability to communicate complex ideas to people who aren’t experts in their area,” said one. But, he added, “Increasingly, people will spend just as much time working with an electrical engineer as mechanical engineers, reliability engineers, test engineers, or anyone from the homologation team. That means they must get out of that little hole of just communicating in a way that only themselves and others within their immediate group can understand.”

Redefine Accountability and Collaboration 

Accountability is another important focus area. Leaders say they are looking for ways to systemize accountability so they can create structure, foster innovation and promote a sense of purpose. 

One mobility executive said collaboration is a fundamental company value, alongside safety and quality. He said that being accountable to one another and working as a team is vital to today’s marketplace. 

Another said he had updated his accountability process to ensure employees focus on the company’s larger goals — not just on a single number. “One of the things I tell my teams is I will never punish you if you make the right decisions and the right prioritizations along the way but still don’t hit your exact goal.”

But accountability is not just an internal process, mobility leaders said. Customers are holding company leadership accountable, too. “You need the courage to make decisions, the courage to change, the courage to innovate, the courage to set ambitious standards,” said one executive. He added that staying neutral on hot topics is no longer an option. When a leader is confronted around issues that may seem far from the business goals — topics such as LGBTQ+ rights or other culture topics — refusing to take a position isn’t acceptable. “To have a position, you need to have courage. You need to know what you believe in.” 

Expect Continued Turbulence

While we are far from the early days of the pandemic and its lockdowns, leaders must embrace the turbulence yet to come. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the global economy, new mobility was well into an era of disruption and transformation. 

“What did a car look like 100 years ago, and how much information did you need to manage it, right? They were less reliable and nowhere near as complex as they are today. With modern cars, there’s so much telemetry, electronic componentry, and systems that integrate into the vehicle,” said one leader. He added that this rate of change would only accelerate, pushing leaders to demonstrate agility and curiosity. “You need the humility to recognize what you don’t know, acknowledge it, and build your team to bring on board the skills needed to grow a company.”

Another leader said that even the nature of how the consumer thinks about mobility is shaken up because the younger generations are revising long-held truisms about mobility. “Covid-19 and larger subscription trends have changed how consumers think about vehicles. We hear the consumer say: I don’t want to own a vehicle. I want to have mobility. I want to subscribe,” he said. “We’re living in this transitional moment where people still want to own a car, and as the generations become younger, they will have less desire to own and more desire just to take advantage of the car.”

Consumer enthusiasm may also generate more turbulence. “There has been a rush of capital toward electric vehicle production. But somehow, the whole infrastructure is truly lacking. The hard job lies with utilities. We don’t have a unified grid in the United States: If everybody drives an electric car in New York, the grid won’t be able to support it,’ said one leader. 

Don’t Allow Current Supply Chain Challenges to Obscure the Focus on Talent

Mobility leaders stress the need to look ahead — and not get distracted by momentary challenges. While the leaders acknowledge that many of the logistical hurdles created by the pandemic still exist, they can’t allow these struggles to consume their attention and resources. Critical to facing these challenges is the human factor: With the right teams in place, we have a better chance of surmounting the immediate difficulties. The managers we elevate, the teams we create, the collaboration we foster will therefore be the factors that determine success. 

The five leaders we spoke with all agree: While they work in a heavily technological sector, they also believe the human factor is fundamental to creating a more prosperous and exciting road ahead. 

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