Auto Revolutions: John McElroy & Jason Stein on Shaping Industry Culture

Auto Revolutions: John McElroy & Jason Stein on Shaping Industry Culture

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If you want to understand the cultural shift the automotive industry is going through right now, you need to look back to the year 1905.

“Get ready,” warns John McElroy, the influential journalist, and commentator who created “Autoline Daily,” the auto industry’s first news and analysis webcast. “This industry is going to see more change in the next seven years — taking us to the end of this decade — than we've seen in the last 100 years.” 

How fitting, then, that John — along with SiriusXM host and Flat Six Media CEO Jason Stein — joins this special episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast to talk about the trends that are about to tear up long-held industry beliefs. 

Jason, who is the former publisher of Automotive News, highlights how Toyota’s Akio Toyoda’s 100-year vision is a shining example of the kind of foresight and determination the industry needs to prepare for and face these oncoming challenges.

Discussing the kind of authentic leadership the automotive industry needs, we hear wisdom from a range of top auto and business leaders, including former Campbell's CEO Doug Conant, HEVO CEO Jeremy McCool, “Godfather of EV” and former Aston Martin CEO Dr. Andy Palmer, and Volkswagen  North America’s CSMO Andrew Savvas.

Tune in to this very special 100th episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast as Jan sits down with John and Jason to talk about the change the automotive industry is about to undergo. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode when the guests get personal — and to hear why Jan thinks the automotive world needs more leaders like Ted Lasso.

Themes discussed on this episode: 

  • The challenge of creating long-running podcasts and build a faithful listenership (with stats to back it up)
  • The importance of servant leadership in a time of monumental industry change
  • The uphill battle of changing a century’s worth of business processes
  • The nature of EVs and what OEMs need to do to stay ahead of the game
  • How company culture is trickle-down, starting with the board
  • Why culture can’t change if purchasing and supply chain executives are measured by bottom-line cost results
  • What the new generation of authentic leaders really need to embody to get themselves etched into the automotive Mount Rushmore
  • Why there’ll be more change over the next seven years than there has been in the last century

Featured Guest: John McElroy

What he does: Journalist, lecturer, commentator, and entrepreneur, John is the influential thought leader in the automotive industry. He created “Autoline Daily,” the first industry webcast of automotive industry news and analysis. With a deep knowledge of the industry, John talks about its many facets, and remains unrivaled in his dissection of its inner workings.

On leadership: “If you don't have a motivated, dedicated workforce that comes into work every day excited to do new stuff that's going to make the product or the services that the company offers better, there's no way that you're going to compete against those that have that. So culture and leadership in the auto industry are more important now than ever before.”

Featured Guest: Jason Stein

What he does: Jason is a former VP and publisher of Automotive News, and a long-time producer of compelling content. He is now owner and CEO of Flat Six Media, as well as host of “Cars & Culture with Jason Stein” on SiriusXM. Jason is focused on unique stories — from business leaders to automotive legends — bringing automotive history to life and distilling future trends.

On leadership: “It all starts at the top: What leadership dictates transcends and trickles down to everyone else and … motivates behavior. … When [Toyota] decided they were going to move from California to Texas, Akio Toyoda had a 100-year vision. I don't know of many companies who lay out roadmaps that are that long and in that detail.”

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[4:46] Cream of the crop: Podcasting stats reveal how challenging building an audience can be — and how easy it is to give up.

[11:53] Winning workplace, winning marketplace: Some automotive industry leaders are embodying new leadership values, transforming century-old company culture in the process.

[16:40] Cultural myopia: What the board of directors dictates trickles down to the rest of the company. Toyota’s 100-year vision and its move from California to Texas sets an example for what cultural change can really achieve.

[20:53] The how: Former Campbell's CEO Doug Conant turned the company around with a simple principle: “You have to be tough on standards, and tender-hearted with people.” Servant leadership is critical for real change.

[23:50] Can you relate?: Measuring purchasing and supply chain executives by bottom line cost results drives certain behavior. Nothing will change until buyer rewards and compensation changes, John highlights.

[29:35] EVolution: HEVO CEO Jeremy McCool called Detroit OEMs “antiquated.” Forget about moving forwards without more nurturing, coaching-based relationships with tech startups. But there’s a tougher, cut-throat edge to EV startups that both John and Jason emphasize.

[35:06] Traditional vs. EV: What came out of the conversation with Dr. Andy Palmer, ‘Godfather of EV’ and former CEO of Aston Martin, was that there’s no right and wrong culture for auto suppliers and OEMs — you have to do what works for you when developing a new culture. But that’s no easy feat, as John explains.

[41:01] Building an automotive Mount Rushmore: Andrew Savvas, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer of Volkswagen, is an exemplar of authentic leadership. How do we celebrate these kinds of leaders?

[47:33] Advice for auto industry leaders: John says there’ll be more change this decade than over the last 100 years. Jason’s advice is to listen to John: If you think it’s fast-paced now, you haven’t seen anything yet. 

[54:23] 21 traits: One of the 21 traits of authentic leadership is vulnerability. John and Jason get real and discuss their favorite bands and binge-able TV shows.

Top quotes

[5:55] John: “I think people give up too easily. Being in media is not easy. It takes a while to build an audience. And if you don't make it to 10 [podcast episodes], you gave up way too easily.”

[7:11] John: “[Podcasting]’s not only growing — it's killing broadcast radio, [just like] streaming is killing broadcast television. ... We're seeing a real technological change because of this.” 

[9:58] Jason: “It all comes down to people: That's all it is, it’s people's stories, and it's telling them in an effective way. Here we are in podcast land, and it's no surprise.”

[10:33] Jason: “John's been talking to industry leaders for 3000 shows: The ability to draw out the stories of those individuals and make the corporate speak into personable [and] everyday individuals has been the magic of what John has been able to do.”

[20:16] Jason: The company just cares about us. It starts there, and transcends to Jack Hollis who's now running North America, and his note to me on the SiriusXM show was, we want to serve people … how can I serve [them and] my teammates today? So it's not about, what's the stock price today, or what's the monthly sales pay? — those things are important but, [as] Jack explained, it starts with serving others. If more companies adopted that kind of culture, it'd be a very different industry.”

[36:23] John: “It's very hard to take an existing culture and change it — damn near impossible. … All my career, I have heard people say how stupid the automakers are in Detroit, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, they don't know anything. They're just so dumb. They're a bunch of Midwest Hicks that don't know what's going on. I've been hearing this for half a century — they're still around, so they must know something. But there's no question — and they all recognise — that they've got to change. But … processes built up … for 120 years, [are] so hard to change.”

[48:01] John: “Get ready: This industry is going to see more change in the next seven years — taking us to the end of this decade — than we've seen in the last 100 years. … You have to go back to around 1905 to find the similar situation in the auto industry that we face right now. Tremendous change going on. And back then it was technological — today, it's technological. Back then it was cultural — today, it's cultural. The difference today, of course, is that it's on a global basis.”

Mentioned in this episode:

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