Sustainability – the way forward in the automotive sector

By Flemming Kehr

As a direct result of MU Austria’s successful Sustainability client event April 20th in Vienna where our Global Practice Lead Flemming Kehr gave a keynote, Flemming was invited by our strategic collaboration partner EIT Manufacturing, an EU Co-funded organisation aiming at supporting innovation and projects that turn research into industry-ready solutions, to participate in the opening panel discussion at Going Green CARE INNOVATION 2023 conference in Vienna on May 9th to give insights on the topic “Sustainability – the way forward in the automotive sector” from a leadership and transformational perspective.

During the hour-long panel discussion with representatives from SEAT CODE, MAGNA STEYR, and TTTech, and an audience of about 400 people including our own Doris Hofmeister, Flemming shared great insights on why leaders, and not technology, have the biggest impact on the success of a corporate sustainability transformation and the overall success of circular business models, and why the current challenges regarding global economic outlook, supply chain redesign, the need to build resilient companies, and the war for talent require a paradigm shift in leadership and a whole new set of leadership capabilities.

In this connection, Flemming emphasized the need to skip the traditional approach to recruitment and executive search where shortcutting, stereotyping, and subjectivity lead to major diversity and performance problems, resulting in a documented failure rate among appointed leaders of up to 50%.  Applying a factful, systemic and science-based approach that is documented can grow the success rate to more than 93% is crucial in the current and future complex and unpredictable business environment.

Furthermore, Flemming also strongly emphasized the need for boards and leaders to design business models for achieving the triple bottom line (People, Profit/Prosperity, Planet), focus future leadership on purpose- and value-driven transformational leadership, and that HR, Sustainability, and Learning teams need a consolidated plan to address skills-gap for employees at all levels. In fact, as Flemming pointed out, international surveys show that approx. 80% of global CEOs state their company has a sustainability strategy and associated targets (or is in the process of developing them), but only 33% of the same CEOs state that they are very confident in their organisation’s ability to meet those targets. In that aspect, 50% of CEOs identify recruiting and retaining people with the right knowledge and skills as key challenges.

One part of the panel discussion really accelerated the debate. It was the question about how we can encourage more talent to work in sustainable manufacturing; what may be their barriers now? And are we facing a shortage of skilled talent in manufacturing in Europe, and what must we do to overcome it soon?

"That part led to a really interesting debate. We discussed, how industries could and should interact more with educational institutions and elementary schools and form strategic partnerships and programmes to ensure that students are educated to meet the future needs of industries and society. From a company-internal point of view, I pointed out that if a company wants to outperform through employee attractiveness and engagement, they need to focus on at least three things:

  1. Create meaningful jobs – because the meaningful job is the most wanted – it is about relatedness and empowerment.
  2. Develop successful sustainability engagement programmes that embrace each employee – identify the engagement triggers, select ambassadors based on proper assessment, and launch individually-tailored incentive models.
  3. Make it possible for employees to participate and impact – develop cross-functional and diverse innovation clusters and innovation hubs with built-in reward systems", Flemming explains. 

Later in the evening, Doris and Flemming were invited to a networking dinner – a traditional Viennese Heuriger, where they had interesting discussions with conference participants from all over Europe, Japan and the US – and there is a lot to follow up on.

"It really was a great event and network opportunity. Austria is really kicking off the sustainability practice agenda, and Doris was the perfect partner in the preparation phase and during the event. Together we are now planning follow-up activities with relevant companies. Furthermore, we will meet with EIT Manufacturing, who is already a strategic MU Vienna collaboration partner and, as MU, a member of invest.austria – an Austrian Association for Private Capital – to discuss how we can strengthen our collaboration and partnership further. Thanks to the whole MU Vienna team for their big support and contribution", says Flemming.

If you want to learn more about how the sustainability agenda can help open new doors to clients and segments, talk to your local MU Sustainability Practice member or reach out to Flemming.