Wendy Bauer, 44
Global Director, Automotive Sales, Amazon Web Services
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, General Motors Institute; M.S., engineering, Purdue University; M.B.A., Indiana University
What drew you to the auto industry? My love for science and math was originally what drove me to become an engineer, and having gone to what was the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University), my first employer was General Motors. But really, it simply comes down to a love for science and math and the opportunity to go and build and create.
First automotive job: Engineer, General Motors, 1994.
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Big break: My professional big break was the opportunity to move directly from the automotive industry to the technology industry, and now having the opportunity to help transform the automotive industry. Why do I say that? Because if I go back five or six years ago, I found myself in the automotive industry and recognizing that the complexity of business problems was accelerating, to the point where conversations were really turning toward the need to think about business transformation. I was very intrigued, constantly reading and learning, and decided it was a path that I wanted to pursue. So having been given that opportunity essentially became my big break. And now we have the opportunity to focus on helping that automotive world successfully navigate and understand how technology can partner with the automotive companies, leveraging technology to solve their problems.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I would say that the auto industry has very strong pockets of avoidance to change, and it doesn’t tend to like ambiguity — to the point of focusing on proving out user data before it’s willing to make a decision, and wanting certainty and risk avoidance. I spent my first 20 years in the industry learning how to navigate this world and this way of thinking. Now, having come to the technology side of it, the technology industry really focuses on improving the speed of learning, to fail fast, really striving for innovation. I’ve had to change how I operate and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You’ve been in the industry 26 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? Two things: First and foremost over 26 years, the exponential pace of innovation, going not only into the vehicle technologies, but across the industry more broadly, and also the shift toward strategic partnerships for a wider part of the automotive ecosystem. When I started my career, I experienced this notion of kind of the supplier/vendor relationship, versus true strategic partnerships. And so now I had the opportunity to see the benefit of strategic partnerships every single day.
What are you most excited about in your work in the auto industry? Every single day, we are faced with the opportunity to help our customers advance and execute upon their digital transformation visions. We’re helping them to move their organizations towards becoming software-driven organizations, and helping them become data driven enterprises. The opportunity to work with them and bring leading technology capabilities, our culture of relentless innovation, and really bringing together subject matter expertise on both the automotive and technology side of it is incredibly motivating and exciting to experience — both the engagement and the outcome of what that means for automotive consumers.
In your current role, how are you having an impact on the automotive industry? It really comes down to helping these 100-plus-year-old companies, with generations of history, changing and taking their legacy approaches and now striving to become digital companies. And that’s in every aspect of their business, from how they design products, how they manufacture products, even helping them think through and realize new revenue streams.
When you look back at this time 10 years from now, how will you remember it? With satisfaction and pride. The industry doesn’t necessarily like change, but change is coming and I think it’s really motivating to see the amount of innovation that’s happening. I really have aspirations and beliefs that the industry is going to find its way to learn how to innovate fast, to become comfortable with failure, to move at a speed that it’s never moved before, because it’s realized how technology can help it do so.
— Larry P. Vellequette