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HR-based challenges in the global automotive industry

At AIMS International, Global Practice we strive to be your best partner. To do so, we need to remain aware of your challenges. As a consequence, we feel the urge to stay connected. We investigate global industry trends, while keeping in touch with our local network.

With that in mind, the Global Mobility and Automotive Practice Members, headed by Olivier Legrand, met up -virtually- with Fotios Katsardis, CEO of TEMOT International, and we had the honour to interview Damien Germès, Regional President EMEA and Karin Mehwald, Director of HR at NGK SPARK PLUG, to share their perspectives from a distributor’s and automotive supplier’s side, active in the aftermarket. You can find the article on general challenges here. In our talks with Fotios Katsardis, CEO of TEMOT International (a distributor for the aftermarket) and Damien Germès, Regional President EMEA, and Karin Mehwald, Director of HR for the EMEA region of NGK SPARK PLUG (an automotive supplier), several challenges arose when we zoomed in on HR specifically. We’ll talk about the common issues first, before taking a closer look at each partner’s specific situation.

One of the key challenges both partners experience is the generational shift in management – to quote Mr. Katsardis; “We notice that, even though our young potentials and current management speak the same language, they mean two different things”. Nevertheless, TEMOT International invests heavily in their young potentials and future leaders. At NGK, they confirm these signals, “We establish an overarching view in our young talents by connecting them with people across the EMEA region, to assist them in laying the groundwork for their network.”

Both parties agree it’s important to find a combination of global market insights and staying in touch with the changes the local market goes through. “It’s important to recruit the right profiles to create this synergy”, Ms. Mehwald pitches in, “We recruit for other core competencies than we did in the past.”

For NGK, the structure has been upturned; while remaining respectful of the company’s Japanese roots, Mr. Germès has changed the working culture to be more bottom-up. “The critical layer, for us, is middle management. They form the link between upper management and the work floor.” The restructuring has been paired with more AGILE team management. “We have assigned around 75 Regional Executives in order to stay in touch with the changing markets in EMEA and drive the cultural change within our organization – they are our eyes and ears in the local markets”.

While it has been no easy task, Ms. Mehwald looks back at the changes NGK has gone through over the past 2 years – with great satisfaction. “Employee engagement has been at an all-time high. We host Q&A-sessions without prior preparation – this sometimes puts us on the spot, but people appreciate the vulnerability, transparency and honesty it creates”. NGK has also invested heavily in internal communication through a platform, Mr. Germès declares. “We’re quite happy to announce that we have yet to experience a content drought – our employees are proud of what they do, we appreciate their enthusiasm and empowerment, and are more than happy to share this with the rest of our organization.”

“Another thing we incorporated is a proper code of conduct”, Ms. Mehwald adds, “by integrating these do’s and don’ts in our assessment, we obtain clearer guidelines for future and existing staff. We decided to stay true to our traditional focus on self-development, and reskilling or upskilling. This unique mix of traditional and modern ways of thinking is what makes us attractive as an employer. Our core values are empowerment, and taking action.” – it’s no surprise that NGK employs an up-to-date leadership style, where management is pushed with new ideas coming from the bottom layer of the organization.

For TEMOT International, the challenge lies in attracting the right talent. “We find that our role in the industry isn’t perceived as ‘sexy’ or modern by young graduates. There are a few specialities we struggle with finding the right profiles for – mostly IT and data management professionals. The virtual world and social media interactive communications have become increasingly important due to the global pandemic. A rebranding is in order. We need to emphasize the sustainable and green aspect of our industry.” An additional, continuing challenge is the consolidation in the market – “Around 500 out of 30.000 wholesalers control over 90% of the market. This requires a different approach to doing business; we need to recruit people with different mindsets, who are more competitive thinkers – the days of small, individual wholesalers are limited.” On the other side of the table, many enterprises, once established as family businesses, are facing the same transition, due to the new generation choosing a different career path.

Whether you experience difficulties in creating support for change, finding the right talent or assessing your current team, or issues planning the succession of your family business, AIMS International is happy to help.

If you have any questions, or have anything to add, feel free to reach out to one of the Global Practice Automotive Mobility members or get in touch with our Belgian office by email at belgiumoffice@aimsinternational.com

About the Authors: 

Original article written by Olivier Legrand, Managing Partner AIMS International Belgium