Boyden Executive Search

For our research into automotive leadership, I was privileged to interview Johann Jungwirth, a truly visionary and disruptive leader I have long admired.  I am delighted to share his rich insights with you.

By Jutta Menzenbach
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Driving Digital Mindset Through Transformational Leadership

For our research into automotive leadership, I was privileged to interview Johann Jungwirth, a truly visionary and disruptive leader I have long admired. I am delighted to share his rich insights with you.


Our survey data 'Growth Mindset: Automotive Leadership in Disruptive Times' show the automotive industry is rapidly evolving from hardware-led to software-led. Yet, half of the respondents say that leadership and culture do not align with this future model. What is your perspective here?

Jungwirth: Clearly, the automotive and mobility industry needs to and will develop from hardware-companies to vertically deeply integrated hardware, software and services groups. Software and services organizations require a different digital leadership and culture, fostering an agile, open, innovative and data-driven work environment. I expect these functions to be also represented on Board of Management level, as we know it from tech companies.

In exploring the best ways of achieving convergence, the majority of OEM and Tier 1 respondents think that hardware and software teams working together (outside their comfort zones) is the best approach. What is your view?

Jungwirth: Cross-functional projects and project houses working in agile teams are keys to success. In addition user-centricity and an iterative approach in the development process with a strong focus on design thinking and customer centricity are equally important.

Adopting and cultivating a digital culture starts at the top. What are you/is Volkswagen doing to accelerate digital understanding to manage cultural and competitive challenges?

Jungwirth: First of all, we lead by example with our digital units, digital labs and Future Centers. My leadership team and I have, just as one example, no offices, we just have a desk in the open space with all employees. We encourage and demonstrate eye-level cooperation and accessibility and remove hierarchy barriers. In addition we have also built up great digital organizations in all brands and organizations, and have established a great communication and quick decision-making process. Our CDO community across the organization is driving the digital transformation.

Do you think it is business critical for a leader to have a so-called 'Silicon Valley mindset' – i.e. Risk taking, learning from failure, iterative innovation, customer engagement and fast-paced decision-making. What is your view?

Jungwirth: Absolutely. It is critical to be competitive and achieve the business results, but it is also important in order to attract the right talent and become a successful digital leader. In addition, it is crucial to have the right vision with a higher purpose and to think big and exponentially.

For almost 10 years you had been working in Silicon Valley. In your view: How can the major competitive advantages of a tech company like Apple i.e. a) processes, b) culture, c) agility, d) communication style, be replicated in a new-era automotive company?

Jungwirth: We need a similar structure and culture as tech companies, with a strong focus on software and services, in addition to the hardware, based on new exponential enabling technologies, as well as on agile and cross-functional collaboration. Design thinking, obsessing over the customer experience and making data-based decisions are key ingredients for the future success of automotive and mobility companies.

Many automotive companies are on a global transformation journey to create a digital workforce. In your view, how can digital awareness be leveraged to create a common mindset and drive momentum?

Jungwirth: We have two approaches for this with the dual transformation. Transformation of the core business with a focus on digital training and awareness, focusing on data, analytics, using digital and AI to improve business processes. On the other hand the disruptive innovation organized in new digital units which are actually born digital with the right mindset, leadership and approach.

Do you expect the composition of executive boards to change as the industry becomes more software dominant? In which way could a digital Board member accelerate this transformational process?

Jungwirth: I am personally convinced that the right thing to do would be to organize like tech companies with Board of Management areas for Hardware Engineering, Hardware Technologies, Software Engineering, Cloud Software and Services, as well as Vehicle Design and UX Design, all reporting to the CEO. The new functional areas will boost the transformation to become deep vertically integrated hardware, software and services companies.

Often digital projects lack legitimacy, power and integration in the core business of the company. Do you think, in becoming a software-led or digital organization, that success can be achieved only through overt [meaning clear, open, public, visible] strategic commitment from the C-suite?

Jungwirth: First of all, the new digital business needs to move the needle on the balance sheets, by achieving profits in the range of hundreds of million or billion Euro or US dollars. I personally expect that this can mainly be achieved by establishing separate digital entities with the right mindset, the right culture, the right speed and the right software and services skills, failing fast, taking controlled risk with quick decision making.

Is experience in different behavior inside any digital organization relating to female leaders? What about results – is there any difference?

Jungwirth: What all studies show is that diverse and mixed teams and leadership have the best results, create and cultivate the best culture and are in general leading in many dimensions. Therefore it is less about comparing individuals but more about the overall team and company progress and results. Diversity is very important for the success of any company, also in the tech, mobility and automotive sectors.

Collaborative partnerships and joint ventures are increasing as organizations seek new IP and expertise: is experience in these areas a higher priority now for C-suite leaders and board members?

Jungwirth: Clearly open platforms and fast scaling beat for example a 6-month exclusivity in a proprietary and closed environment. A great example is Amazon with AWS, Alexa, and other platforms and ecosystems. I have experienced the focus on partnerships and coopetition, which combines cooperation and competition, even between the same partners in different business or technology fields. It does work well and is a key to success for today’s and future executives.


Growth Mindset in Automotive: Leadership in Disruptive Times

Boyden’s Global Automotive Team

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