Senior vice president electrification strategy and technology, Ricardo Inc.
Big break: Both of Chen’s parents were executives at China’s FAW Group, one of the country’s largest automakers. Their careers inspired her to become an engineer.
Automakers are not the only businesses having to reinvent themselves in the electric vehicle era. So are suppliers, such as 107-year-old Ricardo Inc., a global engineering firm that built its reputation in large part by helping automakers develop more powerful, more fuel-efficient and cleaner-running engines.
Now Ricardo’s focus is turning to EVs, and Yansong Chen, a second-generation automotive industry executive, is helping to lead the company’s pivot.
Chen has assisted in recruiting engineers and then made sure the jobs they were given matched their skill sets and growth goals. That, along with some remedial training and cross-training for her team, has enabled Ricardo to work more efficiently.
Chen said she handles the rapid changes in the industry by focusing on the future and having a plan she works relentlessly to implement.
“I’m looking at what are the skill sets needed for future solutions and building a team that focuses on people to carry out that journey,” she said.
Chen grew up in China in an automotive household and knew early on that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her parents. Her mom, one of the first Chinese exchange scholars, spent two years in the U.S. in the early 1980s working in the auto industry. She was an expert in foundries and metal casting for FAW Group and was the company’s vice president of engineering. Her father was a general manager at FAW.
“Automotive is in my DNA. I am second generation. That story is not uncommon,” she said. “But what is uncommon is that I was born and raised in China. My mom encouraged me to come to the U.S. after she returned to China. I pursued electrical and electronics because that’s the future.”
One of Chen’s biggest goals is to be a role model for female engineers in China and America. “This is what I strive for,” she said.
She believes one of the main purposes of her life to is show that blending Asian and American cultures is a pathway to being a successful industry leader.
It is not surprising to hear whom Chen would like to have dinner with someday: General Motors CEO Mary Barra.
“I see her, as I do my mom, a hero in life, a role model as one of the first female U.S. Fortune 500 CEOs,” she said. “I’m looking to continue that role model but on a global role as an international female leader.”
Chen said she sees herself someday as leading a large mobility company that contributes to future technology implementation — exactly the kind of company Ricardo is transitioning to be.
— Richard Truett