Everything about the car business is changing rapidly, including the kind of executives needed to run companies. Francois Truc, a newly hired senior client partner for Korn Ferry’s Global Automotive practice, is up to the task of recruiting this new generation of customer-centric executives.
Francois Truc, a native of France who holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, brings over 20 years of diverse industry and consulting experience in North America, Europe, and Asia, managing relationships with Fortune 500, privately held, and equity-backed companies.
Recently, the Chicago-based partner discussed the changes that are roiling the industry, as well as the skill set leaders need to thrive in a world of smart cars and millennials who are using automobiles differently than their parents.
Korn Ferry: Francois, tell us a little about your background and the kind of work you’ll be doing for Korn Ferry’s automotive clients.
Francois Truc: In my career, I have played a number of different roles. First, I was a management consultant, focusing on the automotive industry. Then for about 10 years, I was in the automotive industry itself, focusing on the component supply side. And then for the last third, I was doing executive search. Today, at Korn Ferry, I am with the Global Automotive and Mobility practice, where I am dealing primarily with executive search. That’s my primary role, but I also talk about culture and organization with clients, playing on my background in those areas.
Korn Ferry: Explain the word “mobility” in the context of the car business. It’s sort of a buzzword that many may not understand.
Francois Truc: Individuals are buying vehicles in a different manner than in the past. It’s much more about paying for the use of the vehicle as opposed to paying for the ownership. That being said, whoever is in Texas who is buying a truck is likely to keep buying such a truck. Traditional purchasers aren’t all going away. But people who live in cities are obviously migrating to a different stage where the use-based mobility model steps in.
Korn Ferry: A long trend story about the automotive industry in the New York Times a few months ago stated that it’s a “scary time to be in the car business” because of all the changes like more young people renting versus owning and the move to electric cars. Is it that scary?
Francois Truc: I don’t think so. The auto industry is transforming in a way to be able to embrace new technological developments. Being able to operate effectively in this industry today requires working collaboratively with companies that are in other industries and are different in the way they operate, such as Google, Apple, and data providers. If it is scary to some, that reflects a lack of readiness as opposed to looking at it as a glass half full, which is a big opportunity for those with the most foresight.
Korn Ferry: How different are the auto executives that you are recruiting today in background and experiences compared to ones that were being hired five years ago? What do they need to succeed today?
Francois Truc: The first element is having had more than one type of experience in the industry. My clients look for people who have two or three experiences or functions where they have demonstrated agility. Secondly, international experience is becoming a must in any of the hiring efforts that I am leading. And third is having a track record of achieving results and adjusting to situations. It’s also important to understand customer needs: the customer is increasingly at the center of what these companies need. It’s a difficult adjustment for companies that were run by engineers and focused around products.
An engineering culture is focused on providing great features and functions, but the direction now is more about alignment to the brand and the experiential side. It’s not about buying a car and then going to the dealership four or five years later and buying another car. It’s about experiencing the vehicle.
Korn Ferry: What’s your advice for a young person who might want to know what to study in order to prepare for a career as an automotive executive?
Francois Truc: I would suggest that they focus on the intersection of both the technical and business side. On the technical side, I would focus on the digital aspects, such as data analytics and data mining as opposed to being a mechanical or electrical engineer. And on the business side, I would really put more emphasis on the marketing and consumer experience than the more historical focus on finance.
Korn Ferry: Thanks for your time.