Neeru Arora, 50
Chief Information Officer, Volkswagen Credit
Location: Herndon, Va.
Education: B.A., finance and economics, Loyola University
What drew you to the auto industry? If you think about the future of mobility and where we are, we are sitting at the edge of the biggest data shift, the biggest economic shift in a very long time. I’m a strategist, and I’m an innovator, and if you look at my background, I come from exchanges: the Chicago Board of Trade and then I was an investment banker. Our autonomous cars and connected cars are going to produce something like four terabytes of data — something like watching 12 hours of high-definition movies on Netflix — per day. So if you think about the data tsunami that we’re about to hit in the auto industry, I found it extremely attractive for me as a technologist, something to tackle that digitization and data in this field. What drew me here was being part of the creation of what the mobility future would look like.
First automotive job: My current one here at Volkswagen Credit.
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Big break: It was a mentor recognizing a talent. I went from the Board of Trade to UBS, and when I joined UBS as an analyst, a man named Jim Vanek recognized what I would say are my management and strategy development talents. Within the first six months of being there, I started getting stretch goals, and he took me away from my economist career and into this management career.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? When I was a consultant, I had tough clients that have been challenging, and sometimes, they have impeded growth. There are clients where you just can’t get their buy-in, no matter what you do, and it hurts your ability to help a client and it hurts your ability, as a service provider to the client, to get them to the next level, and internally, that kind of hurts. And that same challenge exists in the corporate world. The biggest challenge as a leader often is the ability to manage the stakeholders to get their buy-in to gain alignment and overcome those hurdles.
You’ve been in the industry almost three years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? It’s the opportunity around that data that is about to be produced by autonomous and connected vehicles. There is an estimated $750 billion opportunity that is coming from all of that data. So the automakers are changing the way they think about their cars, and thinking about them now as software, because our cars are going to become these giant computers on wheels.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I am very proud of how our IT department today focuses on driving results, driving innovation and supporting the business strategy. Two years ago when I joined, I launched what I called a new operating model, which was a very systematic approach to how we would change from the old-school thinking to a goal to be the No. 1 services, infrastructure, software provider within the financial services family at Volkswagen. We started with that mission and we said that our goal was to make things simple. If I think about the transformational journey that we have gone through in the last year, I’m very proud of it.
Describe your leadership style. Collaborative, community, empowerment.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? Get ahead of the situation. Be decisive in your decision-making. Be empathetic and support the team.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? No. I am very blessed to have the career that I’ve had. I’m very blessed to have the people who have been in my life, both professionally and personally, throughout my career. I wouldn’t do anything different. I think life is a journey. I say this to my children. I fundamentally believe that what is meant for you in this universe will be given to you, but do you have to work. That’s the secret.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I have a ritual. I get up at 4:30 a.m., and I need about six hours of sleep, so I’m in bed by 10 p.m. So, the 4:30 a.m. ritual is something I started after my first daughter was born, and it gives me several hours of doing what I need to do and not being interrupted. That is my time. And that to me is my work-life balance. I’m doing work on my time, on my terms. I’m not interfering with my family lives, and then my children have me from 7 to 9 a.m. I don’t take any calls during that time. If anybody goes into my calendar, it literally says “out of office” each day during those two hours.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? Tennis with my family and Friday night family movie nights.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? Exercise.
— Larry P. Vellequette