President, Global Business Services, Bosch
Location: Farmington Hills, Mich.
Education: Industriekauffrau IHK, advanced business administration degree with thesis, Diplom-Kaufman, University of Munich
What drew you to the auto industry? I always wanted to work for a technology company or manufacturing. That’s what drew me to Bosch, but it was not about automotive. It was about the people and the culture of the company combined with technology.
First automotive job: I would say the first real exposure was when I started in a brakes plant with Bosch in 1993.
Big break: I’ve had several breaks in my career. I was lucky enough to always be at the right spot at the right time. I’ve always had the possibility to get new, changing positions. One big thing was when I had the possibility to be part of the [Bosch] M&A team and I was the youngest. It was fascinating because I spent three months with a lot of people who were the pillars of Bosch. I learned a lot in three months.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? When I have to do things like restructuring, and that happens in every industry. We are always fair with our associates, but it is a very heavy psychological burden you have to carry to find possibilities for everybody in this environment and to treat everybody fairly. The higher up you get, the more alone you are in situations like that. Nobody will ask you, “How are you?” and that is pretty tough. As I like people very much, I love working with people, it is tough when you have to make decisions like that.
You’ve been in the industry 34 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? What we’re going through right now, and I don’t mean COVID, I mean the rapid change in technology. That’s fascinating on one hand, but also, you have to be much more vigilant when it comes to business. There are new competitors. There are new customers. You have to always stay educated about what’s out there. You have to inform yourself and sometimes it’s even information overload, but I think it’s one of the most exciting times right now.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I don’t think that way. What I love seeing is when I start working with people and I see them developing in their career. I’ve mentored a lot of people and now I see them coming up through the ranks. I’m always proud to see that I had a little to do with it.
What do you struggle with? I think I struggle with the typical thing for my generation — I never have enough time for everything. You always have a little feeling of guilt toward family or friends, your work. You always have to make a decision because the day only has 24 hours. I didn’t see the first steps of both of my children because I was traveling. I’m pretty good with not feeling guilty but sometimes it gives you this close-to-guilty feeling.
Describe your leadership style. My leadership style is very old- fashioned. It comes from my dad. When I had my first leadership position, he told me to lead is to serve. He made it very clear it’s not about a title or the office you have, it’s how successful you make people you work with. I’ve kept this style all my career. I give a lot of freedom to all my associates. I want them to develop. I want them to make decisions. I’ve been very successful with this style all my career and I always know it when people want to work for me again.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? It might sound funny, but all my life prepared me for this. I’ve always had challenging positions, challenging family situations. I always had to stay calm in difficult situations so that already helped me. I love technology, so I try everything and anything when it comes out. I started using these technologies a long time ago. I also was a pioneer in working from home or now, from anywhere. Working from anywhere is normal for me. Using technology is normal for me, and juggling everything else is also normal for me.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I think the biggest thing is still role models. We all who have had a career within the industry, we have to be out there all the time and show other women that it’s possible, that it’s actually fun. It’s a very interesting and advancing industry with new positions that weren’t there five or 10 years ago. The other part is, where I think we are struggling a bit is, when women enter the industry, they often go into support functions too early.
What’s the best part of your day? At 4:30 a.m. when I get up; 4:30 to 5:30 or 6 o’clock sometimes, this is my time. I have my coffee and I think. Having said that, I do really enjoy — and I try to as often as I can — to have dinner with my kids to hear about their day and I would say it’s a very sacred time.
— Alexa St. John