Spanning a history of thousands of years, Barcelona has been home to a plethora of cultures. This diversity has left a lasting mark on the Mediterranean metropolis as time went on and still shapes its cosmopolitan nature today. This made the capital of Catalonia the perfect setting for the final round of Volkswagen Truck & Bus’s first ever Executive Elite Program, which it designed together with the IESE and HEC Paris business schools. 20 managers were chosen from the Volkswagen Truck & Bus Group and its strategic partners Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and Navistar to come together for regular workshops over the course of one year. The four modules took the participants on a journey across four different countries. They got to know different cultural theories and management strategies as they travelled to France, the U.S.A., China, and Spain. As part of this process, particular emphasis was placed on the question of how we should handle the rapidly changing circumstances within the market and the industry. In order to answer this question, the managers examined new business models, proposed active changes for their companies, and even considered reinventing entire processes.
The program kicked off with the first module, which took place in spring 2017 in Paris. “They definitely expected this to be a run-of-the-mill seminar in a hotel. But when they got there, we put them on a train and then on a bus that took them to Saint-Cyr, a military academy steeped in tradition. They lived in shared accommodation and had to overcome various challenges as a team, which took them out of their comfort zone,” explains Dr. Martin Hofmann, Head of Human Resources & HR Strategy at Volkswagen Truck & Bus. “One of the tasks involved navigating a labyrinth of tunnels in complete darkness. Placed in an environment unfamiliar to them all, these top managers from different brands quickly grew together into a strong team,” Hofmann continues.
Jeremy Ghez, professor at the HEC Paris business school, explains: “The biggest challenge we faced in designing the program was having to guide the participants through an unfamiliar environment. At the same time, they had to feel comfortable enough to give free rein to their imagination and their ingenuity. The participants learned that creativity really has no limits. We also know that there are virtually no technological limits to what we have the potential to do. The biggest obstacle to progress is not technology – it is us human beings.”
The second module focused on putting innovation into practice and placed particular emphasis on new business models. Representatives from leading tech giants like Google and Uber joined entrepreneurs from smaller start-ups in Silicon Valley to give an insight into their visions and ideas and describe how it may be possible to rethink existing business models. “One of the most important realizations we had was that we have to become more agile. We should also think about how we can bring our traditional and still essential business model and new ideas together,” says Leandro Siquiera, Strategy, Product Planning and Digital Office Vice President at MAN Latin America, who took part in the program.
Module number three took participants on a journey into the Middle Kingdom and, as well as making them more aware of leadership strategies, gave them an understanding of the extent to which technology has permeated day-to-day life in Asia. The discussion therefore focused on the significance of big data and Industry 4.0 for the mobility and transportation solutions of the future. “Leaving my own reality at home and stepping into a parallel universe where radical change is already happening was impressive. I sometimes found it hard to see the speed with which some of these companies move. Seeing it makes you want to move forward quicker as well – although having said that, we are already well on track in that respect,” explains Niklas Klingenberg, participant and Senior Vice President for Purchasing Powertrain at Scania.
The program was rounded off with the fourth module in Barcelona, where the participants finally got the chance to present the business ideas they had been developing in their project groups over the course of the year. “What makes this program so special is the fact that it is the first time the brands have been brought so close together in this format and at this level. For our managers, this was a great opportunity to both network and strengthen their collaboration. On the other hand, it also gave them the chance to share ideas on new business models from around the world,” says Dr. Carsten Intra, Chief Human Resources Officer of the Volkswagen Truck & Bus Group, MAN SE, and MAN Truck & Bus AG. The program and the results that were presented were also well-received by the Board members in every respect.
Andreas Renschler, CEO of the Volkswagen Truck & Bus Group and member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG, was particularly impressed with the creativity and innovative approaches shown in the entries. Marc Sachon, professor at the IESE business school, summarizes: “We developed this program to help Volkswagen Truck & Bus prepare its managers for a business environment that changes on a daily basis. In doing so, our thinking was always twofold – taking into account both the challenges posed by digitalization and the changing approaches to leadership. As the program went on, we created a very strong team that makes Volkswagen Truck & Bus fit for the future.”