Jeff Klei, outgoing president of Continental North America, has seen his fair share of transformations, downfalls and challenges in the auto industry.
After 30 years with the German automotive megasupplier and the American brake company it acquired, ITT Automotive, Klei announced last week that he is retiring.
Klei, 57, will relinquish his title effective April 1 to Robert Lee, CEO of Continental Automotive Korea since 2014.
The change in leadership comes amid a pandemic that is rapidly disrupting the North American industry and its global supply chain. The same day Klei announced his retirement, the Detroit 3 decided to halt production in response to COVID-19 worries, triggering a domino effect among major suppliers, including Continental.
Klei was appointed president of Continental North America in 2008, another moment of industry disruption. In an interview with Automotive News last week, Klei likened the COVID-19 crisis to the recession he was tasked to weather just more than a decade ago.
"I think what happened back then is a great example of what is happening right now," Klei said of the financial crisis. "That was the start of recognizing the need for relationships and the need for collaboration. It was really a turning point for the industry."
From the recession to an ongoing shift from mechanical components to more software and digital components in vehicles, Klei said the industry is "moving at a pace which I don't think anyone could imagine 30 years ago.
"With that comes challenges," he added.
During his time at the helm, Klei realigned the business strategy and oversaw the growth of advanced driver-assist and autonomous technologies within the company.
"At times like this, partnerships and relationships really make a difference," Klei offered.
"The industry will come out of this like it did in the [financial crisis], much stronger and much smarter as a result," he added. "I hope it comes back as fast as it did back then."
Whitney McDonald contributed to this report.