The Automotive industry has arguably experienced more change and disruption than any other sector in recent years, underpinning the continued thirst for new technology borne from consumer trends.
Proco Mobility has partnered with Matt Fisch, CTO at Gentherm – a company at the heart of industrial change – for a series of blogs exploring his experiences within the industry, how Gentherm are thinking differently and Matt’s insights into what the future holders for the sector.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about Gentherm?
Gentherm develops a broad range of heating and cooling and temperature control applications in the Automotive and Medical industries. Our Automotive products include variable temperature Climate Control Seats, heated automotive interior systems (including heated seats, steering wheels, armrests and other components), battery thermal management systems, cable systems and other electronic devices. Our Medical products include patient temperature management systems.
Our mission is to create and deliver extraordinary solutions that make meaningful differences in everyday life, by improving health, wellness, comfort and energy efficiency.
Interesting, and what about your role there?
I joined Gentherm eight months ago to bring a system perspective and digital element to our technology strategy and product pipeline. Our footprint in the cabin of an automobile allows us to be uniquely positioned to create a system that provides a game-changing experience for the passenger. For example, imagine a future where you needn’t worry about setting the temperature or HVAC “mode” in your car. The car should recognize who you are, how you are feeling, and treat you accordingly from a comfort perspective.
As a technology provider, when we look to the future of the automotive industry, Gentherm is at the eye of the perfect storm for addressing key CO2 footprint issues and, improving energy efficiency in the growing Electric Vehicle (EV) market, while having the key elements necessary to transform the cabin experience that will be required to meet the demands of autonomous driving (e.g. flexibility and automation).
What inspired your interest in the sector?
I’ve always been motivated by making the world a better place through technology – and it also helps that I am a total automobile enthusiast!
Additionally, as the automotive industry transitions to EVs, the growing maturity of autonomous driving will force automakers and suppliers to completely reimagine the in-cabin experience. It’s an exciting time as we find the fine line between developing breakthroughs in energy management that improve, not decrease, the EV driving range that consumers have come to expect.
With an industry developing at such pace, what keeps you interested and how do you remain ahead of the curve?
Coming from the world of software, there is a wealth of technical “brain food” in climate, comfort and the in-cabin experience to absorb. We have a Machine Learning team at Gentherm that has spent years developing an algorithm that predicts responses of the human body to the (thermal) environment. I find this and any AI to be a fascinating topic!
Adding to this, what I find most noteworthy is the team’s openness to exploring new ideas and ways of working. We transitioned our Global Product documentation and compliance management system from a traditional PLM approach to Atlassian Confluence and JIRA in only four months. This is simply remarkable for a manufacturing-driven company that is at the tip of the iceberg of a digital transformation. In my experience, such a transition can take over a year for even the most seasoned SaaS companies. The team’s hunger to collaborate and figure out new ways of solving problems is simply inspiring and enables us to serve our customers in unmatched fashion!
What do you believe the key contributors to your personal success are?
Never giving up. Listening. Building great teams!
I think it’s incredibly important to practice thought leadership and think boldly, while carefully balancing intellectual curiosity by listening intently to my customers, teammates, and industry co-travellers. I ask what business challenges are keeping them awake at night and how we can solve them together, through this I often find that some of my most significant breakthrough successes are achieved in between business meetings, rather than in them.
It’s clearly an approach you are passionate about, how has this helped you at Gentherm?
In my first eight months on the job, it became very apparent that Gentherm’s ability to mobilize and innovate quickly, while delivering, has fostered some very strategic relationships with our global automaker customers.
For example, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were selected by Ford to provide a key system element of an emergency project; The Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) – we took that from concept to product in less than 6 weeks! That came from persistence, listening to our customer, and having a great team in place to innovate. I should also point out, that this year we are a recipient of General Motors’ prestigious Supplier of the Year Award.
That’s amazing, congratulations to your team. What are some of the most surprising lessons you’ve learned along the way?
As an Engineer, I’m wired to deliver results and have a natural tendency to view the world through a lens of GSD (Getting Stuff Done). As a leader, it becomes far more important to “GSD” through others and winning hearts and minds is key to that. Learning to putting the human element (empathy) first and taking the time to understand others world views becomes incredibly powerful in driving transformation – whether it be within your own team, a customer, or the industry.
At Gentherm, we weave “outside-in” thinking to our innovation and new product development approach. Thought leadership is key to forging strategic relationships with our customers, but we must strongly complement that with deeply understanding our customers’ key challenges and opportunities. From that, powerful ideas are borne.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Or given?
My advice: Focus first on building the right team, no matter how difficult the circumstances. There will always be massive pressure, deadlines, and customer needs that create inertia to maintain the status quo. Having a diverse set of perspectives and personalities is a must, yet the leaders must be capable of rowing in the same direction (rapid alignment). With leadership, alignment comes multipliers in output because it empowers the team to operate with maximum creativity without bumping into guardrails on a daily basis.
The best advice I have received is: Don’t try to change people – instead, take the time to understand your leaders’ talents and passion and align with the right opportunity. This is especially important when working with peers – build a plan and execution in cooperation with their swim lane and goals and not trying to re-write it through your own lens.
We’d like to thank Matt for providing valuable insight into his evolving mandate at Gentherm, it’s clear that innovation and transformational change are at the core of his role.