Sandy Stojkovski, 47
CEO, Vitesco Technologies North America
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, MBA and M.S., industrial manufacturing systems engineering, University of Michigan
What drew you to the auto industry? I believe the auto industry is actually the best industry in the world. First of all, not only do its products really affect nearly everyone in the world, but it’s just got these fantastic and complex problems. Being born and raised in southeast Michigan, the automotive industry and University of Michigan were the two things really running through my veins. With a great example of my dad, who worked in the auto industry as well, and as an engineer also, I was inspired to go into engineering and had an eye towards going into the automotive industry from a pretty early age.
First automotive job: I was 18 and a summer intern at Ford Motor Co. in brake development in 1992. At that time, brake development was housed in the middle of the Dearborn proving ground. So definitely not a sterile office environment whatsoever. I do remember one of my colleagues decided to kind of test my mettle. We went out on the track in a development Mustang and he would do these 80-to-0 stops over and over again. I learned the purpose of this was to see if I would get sick, if I would throw up. I didn’t, so I guess I passed the test. That was my first auto job.
Big break: My big break happened at the transition point between what I look at as the first 15 years of my career, which were holding a variety of functional roles, and then the transition to leading businesses, which I’ve done for the majority of the last 10 years. To get that big break of leading businesses, I actually made it myself. I quit what was a good-paying job in the middle of the 2009 recession and started my own company. I became the founder and overall head of a strategic consulting company that I built from scratch. Very quickly, it was acquired by AVL and I ran it for them for four years.
This was a big break, not only because it meant I was now running a business, instead of only functional roles, but also because what the team did together was pretty cool. We were able to predict, 10 years ago, the kind of technologies that are actually in demand today, through our strategic consulting and model-based approach. It was not only my big break, but it was also something I’m pretty proud of.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I’ve faced a lot of challenges. You could say a big change in leadership, or a big drop in sales, serious quality challenges and maybe now even looking at it as going through the coronavirus pandemic amidst a planned spin off as a brand-new CEO for the region. These are all pretty big challenges that I’ve faced. I think the key is really about using these as opportunities to grow and learn. The key to the challenges is framing them properly and becoming stronger because of them. Actually, in my office is a frame that I use to remind me to know that the frame you set is the picture you get. It’s empty, because the point is that you know whatever is going on, you need to frame it in your own way.
You’ve been in the industry 24 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? Back when I started, we were starting to put computers on every desk and we were really starting to change from physical and paper-based things into more digitized tools and processes. But for sure now we’ve really expanded so much beyond that with AI and VR and all the systems tools and things that we use. Digitization is the most significant change that has happened over my career.
What work achievement are you most proud of? More recently, I’m very proud of the experience I’ve had joining Continental (parent company of Vitesco Technologies) from the outside. I immediately was launched into a position based out of Germany for a couple years. This was a significant step up in size of team and size of business that I was running. I’m really happy with the results that we’ve achieved and, importantly, how much the team, under my leadership, grew.
Tell us about your family. I’m married; we have two boys who are both teenagers. I’m really fortunate that my husband and our two boys even enabled us to go live in Germany for a couple years.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I love to be physically active as much as possible, whether it be sports or exercise. I love to play golf. I’m actually also very involved in karate, I’m a second-degree black belt now. I love to work out and take long walks.
— Jack Walsworth