EV success on CV now key to big automotive jobs

New leadership appointments increasingly stress track records on delivering in e-mobility

EV success on CV now key to big automotive jobs
Sander had a leading role in Ford's EV division before returning to VW

Germany’s Volkswagen brand has a new board member in Martin Sander. The ex-Audi and Ford man will take over sales, marketing and after sales responsibilities from Imelda Labbe, who is leaving the company for personal reasons as part of a retirement plan.

It is worth noting that, alongside Sander’s previous role as chairman of the management board of Ford-Werke GmbH, he was also general manager for the Ford Model e e-mobility division in Europe. And it is a definite emerging trend that new senior automotive industry appointments are going to those with EV experience, with their success in e-mobility stressed at their unveiling.

Sander “was responsible for the development of electric vehicles as well as the development of software and services for connected vehicles for Ford in Europe”, the VW statement on his appointment notes.

And he is not the only new recent hire within the VW Group to be lauded for his EV credentials. Frank-Steffen Walliser was backed to “successfully lead Bentley into the electrified future” by Audi CEO Gernot Doellner when he was unveiled as the luxury brand’s new CEO late last month.

In particular, Walliser’s delivery of the 918 Spyder hybrid — of which he was project leader from late 2010 until 2014, so largely over a decade ago — was singled out for attention, in order to burnish his EV credentials.

But it is not only in VW where EV experience is an advantage in getting a senior role. This month, Sherry House, former CFO at EV pure play Lucid and, prior to that, at EV-adjacent firms Waymo and Visteon, will be joining Detroit heavyweight Ford, with a view to assuming the CFO reins early next year.

Again, her e-mobility credentials were heavily trailed in Ford’s unveiling. “Sherry adds an important leadership dimension to Ford as we urgently build a profitable EV business, generate new and recurring revenue streams, and create a more dynamic and resilient company,” CEO Jim Farley said.

“Sherry combines deep roots and a passion for the auto industry with real-world experience in investment banking, mobility and technology, including EVs and autonomy,” he continued.

Go electric, get rewarded

From the start of this month, Amsterdam-headquartered Stellantis will have a new chief sales and marketing officer in Luca Napolitano. He will combine the role with continuing responsibility of the Lancia brand.

And Lancia, which had shrunk to a single model, single country marque, is in the process of an aggressive relaunch as a premium electrified brand under Napolitano’s watch. So again, a track record in driving into e-mobility is being rewarded with an enhanced role.

In the US, Chris Feuell will take ownership of Stellantis’ Ram brand alongside her Chrysler responsibilities. And the firm explicitly acknowledged that “Chris will continue to lead the electric transformation of the Chrysler brand”, pointing to similar role expansion for an executive that had led an electrification initiative.

US legacy GM has also rewarded Rory Harvey, who led the pivot of its Cadillac brand toward electrification, with quick-fire promotions as a result. Harvey became GM’s president for North America in the middle of last year before becoming president of global sales at the start of 2024.

And South Korea’s Hyundai put EVs front and centre of its expectations when it announced in late May Manfred Harrer as executive vice-president and head of a newly established Genesis and performance development tech unit, saying he would “support the group’s acceleration in the electrification era”.

“As a world-renowned performance vehicle expert, Manfred will contribute significantly to the development of future Genesis luxury high-performance models, as well as our transition to electrification for Hyundai and Kia brands,” said Heui Won Yang, president of the Hyundai-Kia R&D division.

The firm “anticipates Harrer’s leadership will expedite its electrification transition, securing top-tier leadership in the EV era and enhancing the marketability of Hyundai and Kia’s products”.

BMW took a slightly different approach when announcing Stefan Richmann as the new director of its Mini brand. It stressed the EV credentials of his outgoing predecessor Stephanie Wurst, who had “strategically successfully focused the British premium brand Mini on new markets and target groups, and in particular on electric mobility and digitalisation”.

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But no mention was made of Richmann’s EV credentials. That said, his most recent role has been heading up BMW’s corporate strategy division, a position in which — even leaving aside BMW’s greater appetite than any other non-Japanese legacy OEM for the strategic dead-end that is hydrogen for personal mobility — he would likely have had significant exposure to it future EV ambitions.

Boardrooms of the future

This hiring trend is telling us two things. One is that, for ambitious executives wanting to get ahead at traditional automakers, getting EV experience on the resume is increasingly a must.

The second is that, for any temporary throttling back in roadmaps as EV adoption proves somewhat slower than expected, OEMs remain open-eyed to the direction of travel. A final generation of leaders that knew only of ICE coming up are gradually being replaced. And the senior managements teams and boardrooms of the future will be staffed with personnel and skillsets suited for when electrified vehicles make up the bulk of all surviving automakers’ sales.

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