Ex-CEO Audi: ‘The best solution is driving less’
Bram Schot (58), the former CEO of Audi, has left the company this month and considers his options. Meanwhile, he analyses the current situation and thinks about the future. He talked openly to the Dutch newspaper Trouw.
Schot was the successor of Rupert Städler at Audi in 2018 and led the company through a difficult period. End of last month, he had to clear the path for a new German Audi-boss, Markus Duessmann, a former BMW manager and confidant of VW’s big boss Herbert Diess.
A month ago responsible for 90 000 people, and now a free man, that must be a big difference?
“I worked till the last minute as if I was still going to work 25 years for the company. I think I did a lot for the company in those two years. I changed the company culture, made the organization simpler and flatter.”
But you had to cut in budgets, reorganize investments?
“I tried to give people a new perspective. I told them that it was going to hurt in the beginning, but that Audi will shine again and that it’s a wonderful company to work for. We made the company more efficient and effective.”
You stopped at the outbreak of corona…
“Yes, I was still in charge and decided immediately to close the factories. It confronted me with the fact that car companies are extremely vulnerable and also (too?) dependent on China.”
“This is a time of reflection. We feel the effects of globalizing. We see people growing; we see people failing. I think it’s good to stand still for a while, overlook things. I hope we learn from it too.”
Times are changing
Is this a big shock for the car industry?
“The speed at which the industry had to slow down was enormous. It will take much more time to rebuild; this will have an impact on the car industry for years. The timing was awful, we were amidst the (very costly) energy transition.”
“I also think we will have to rethink the meaning of premium. People tend to cherish other things in times of crisis; they ask themselves what is worth spending their money on.”
“I’m not too concerned about Audi. My successor will do a good job and we assured that Audi stays the innovation pole within the VW Group. There will always be a need for premium cars when they offer ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’.”
But isn’t it possible that we will return to our old habits once this crisis is gone?
“That’s surely possible. It wouldn’t be the first time we don’t learn from history and will be doomed to repeat it. But I hope we will, this time.”
Back to the future
What will happen in the near future?
Car manufacturers will have to become mobility providers. The car itself will become one of the most important data sources, that’s where its chances ly. But first, it has to become green. A thing that takes so much space to transport, on average, 1,2 persons is too harmful to the environment. We will have to sell fewer cars, not more.”
“The best solution is, of course, to drive less. It brings us back to the essence of our discussion. What’s important for us? What’s essential and what is just nice to have? A big area of tension between wish and necessity, between environment and economic interests.”
How about your future? Will you stay in the automotive business?
“I haven’t decided yet. All options are open. I take a sabbatical to think about things. Of course, there will be a lot of things happening in the automotive. A quarter of my options is related to automotive, as a CEO or a board member somewhere.”
“But I can also continue my teaching about leadership. I do this already at the Bocconi University in Milano or the Sankt Gallen University in Switzerland. It feels like my head has become my office again. In the next weeks, I’m going to ask myself what are the essentials. What’s really important for me, what will make me happy…”