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In this podcast episode, Alisyn Malek, a seasoned leader in the automotive and mobility industry, shares her extraordinary journey from working on an OEM electric vehicle project to pioneering startups that influence the future of mobility. Alisyn addresses the challenges confronting traditional automotive manufacturers in adapting to rapid innovation, highlighting the necessity for a mindset shift and a focus on solving tangible customer problems through data-driven decision-making.
As she discusses her role at May Mobility and establishing SkillFusion, Alisyn emphasizes the crucial intersection where policy, infrastructure, automation, leadership, and technology converge. The podcast explores her experience developing a software platform to address the pressing issues with EV charging infrastructure, showcasing how her leadership and expertise bridge the gap between established OEMs and the burgeoning startup landscape. Alisyn's commitment to shaping the future of mobility through collaboration, innovation, and an unwavering growth mindset shines through, making this episode a must-listen for those intrigued by the transformative dynamics of the automotive industry.
Themes discussed in this episode:
- Automotive transformation and OEM challenges
- Challenges and opportunities in the automotive industry's transition to automation
- Cross-functional design approach in the automotive industry
- Data-driven decision-making
- Startup ecosystem and innovation
- The human element in EV charging infrastructure
- Leadership traits for innovation
Featured: Alisyn Malek
What she does: Alisyn is a dynamic leader in the mobility and automotive sectors, having played key roles at General Motors, driving EV product development and corporate strategy. As the co-founder and COO of May Mobility, she pioneered autonomous vehicle transportation solutions. Currently, she's driving innovation as the force behind SkillFusion, a platform focused on enhancing EV charging infrastructure through workforce development.
On leadership: “The open mindset helps because you've created a dialogue back and forth. But you also have to demonstrate back that you trust them. That only goes so far, so if they keep messing up, you have to show people there are consequences. But it has to be a two-way street because that, again, really creates the strength of the team that's going to allow you to achieve things you otherwise never would have thought imaginable.”
Mentioned in this episode:
- Ed Olson, CEO and Co-Founder of May Mobility
- SAFE, Coalition for Reimagined Mobility
- Alisyn Malek’s book, Intersection: Reimagining Mobility Across Traditional Boundaries
[00:03:25] Alisyn's professional journey: Embark on Alisyn's dynamic career, spanning GM's automation endeavors to co-founding May Mobility and venturing into the realm of startups.
[00:11:53] A blueprint for innovation: Exploring the multifaceted dimensions of mobility and transportation, Alisyn discusses her book's mission to capture diverse perspectives on the future of mobility.
[00:20:01] Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Dive into Alisyn's perspective on embracing discomfort and cultivating a growth mindset for innovation within the automotive realm.
[00:33:26] Nurturing mobility ecosystem: A dynamic startup ecosystem that Alisyn played a pivotal role in launching in Detroit. Newlab focuses on empowering founders to scale their businesses, particularly in hard tech areas such as mobility, energy, and materials.
[00:36:31] Explore SkillFusion: Alisyn's recent venture addressing the shortage of skilled technicians in maintaining EV charging infrastructure, ensuring a seamless experience for electric vehicle users.
[00:40:51] Alisyn on authentic leadership: Learn about the key traits that fuel Alisyn’s dynamic approach to navigating the fast-paced world of innovation and mobility.
[00:43:59] Personal side of Alisyn: Peek into Alisyn Malek's personal side, from favorite spots in Detroit to literary preferences, offering a glimpse into the life of a leader shaping the future of mobility.
[00:07:02] Alisyn: “Why would we do the same thing when we knew the same thing was actually having worse outcomes for people getting where they needed to go?”
[00:11:17] Alisyn: “Our entire economy is underpinned by mobility. Our health and life outcomes are underpinned by our access to mobility.”
[00:19:38] Alisyn: “We need to be able to ask questions, and we need to know that sometimes, at the very start, we won't have all the answers, but we'll get them along the way. And that requires a culture that needs that open mindset.”
[00:22:44] Alisyn: “To write something off because it didn't work once is terrible product planning because other people are working to evolve it… Instead of just telling me it doesn't work. Why don't you tell me why it didn't work then? What part of it failed?”
[00:27:15] Alisyn: “The number of decisions that are made within automotive, because an executive has a gut feel or a passion, not because there was data taken or there was an ill-structured customer study done early on, I think fundamentally is what is wrong.”
[00:27:57] Alisyn: “I think the biggest problem that the OEMs are going to be tackling is how do you actually make sure you're solving the right problem. Because each problem is going to take resources, it's going to take capital, it's going to take people, it's going to take expertise.”
[00:30:52] Alisyn: “Stop trying to pretend to be a tech company and actually be a tech company. The whole idea of a tech company from a startup perspective is that you solve a problem that people have and are willing to pay.”
[00:42:03] Alisyn: “Being able to create that learning culture, that open mindset, is going to help your team gel and be able to rally together to be able to do more faster.”
[00:00:00] Jan Griffiths: Welcome to the Automotive Leaders Podcast, where we help you prepare for the future by sharing stories, insights, and skills from leading voices in the automotive world with a mission to transform this industry together. I'm your host, Jan Griffiths. That passionate, rebellious farmer's daughter from Wales with over 35 years of experience in our beloved auto industry and a commitment to empowering fellow leaders to be their best authentic selves. Stay true to yourself, be you, and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership. Let's dive in.
I'm beyond thrilled to introduce to you the one and only Alisyn Malek, a trailblazer in the world of mobility. Alisyn's passion for all things mobility is truly infectious. Her journey began in 2008, where she joined the automotive industry as an engineer working at GM on the development of electric vehicle technology, which begs the question, why did it take so long for this technology to be more widely adopted? Well, stay tuned. She's about to spill the tea on that one. But Alisyn's expertise doesn't stop there. Her career is a masterpiece woven together with diverse experiences. She's ventured into the world of finance as a venture capitalist, led an artistic collective, and has a profound understanding of the complex mobility ecosystem, from the nitty gritty of automotive component design to the intricacies of urban planning and the introduction of autonomous driving. She's seen it all. What I find most compelling about Alisyn is her passion for creating economic opportunities for others. She understands that mobility is about so much more than just convenience. It's a fundamental component of our economy, health, and overall quality of life. She's currently on a mission to solve the most pressing issue in our transition to EV adoption, charging. Her approach to problem-solving combined with a philosophy of "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable," perfectly encapsulates her growth mindset and her commitment to innovation. It goes without saying that Alisyn's accomplishments are beyond impressive. She's been recognized as a notable leader in EVs by Crains Detroit 2022, was an Automotive News All-Star in 2019, and was named a Top 10 Female Innovator to watch by the Smithsonian in 2018. More than that, she's an accomplished author, a dedicated wife and mother, and a proud resident of Detroit. Alisyn Malek, welcome to the show.
[00:03:21] Alisyn Malek: Thank you so much, Jan. I'm excited to be here with you today.
[00:03:25] Jan Griffiths: Alisyn, you are a self-confessed mobility nerd, and you clearly are at the forefront of mobility. But I want to understand something. How on earth did you get there? Let's go right back to the very beginning. Where did you start your career?
[00:03:43] Alisyn Malek: So, I started my career at GM as an intern, it was 2008 and a hard time for mechanical engineers or most engineers to find jobs as recent grads. So, I managed to get an internship and I took it. What was cool is it had me working on electric vehicles. And so, as the internship wrapped up, I pushed the leadership team to see if I could find a full-time spot to stay on, and we were able to find a spot and that is what kept me at GM.
[00:04:12] Jan Griffiths: And then, what happened after GM? That's kind of, now, when was that then? What year was that?
[00:04:16] Alisyn Malek: So that was 2008 and I worked in product development. So, I was an engineer working on EV charging. I did that for about four years, did a little bit of work more on the sort of corporate strategy, but for the electrification team for about two years and then went into corporate venture. So, I had a couple of different hats while I was at GM and then I left GM in 2017 and co-founded May Mobility.
[00:04:42] Jan Griffiths: So, 2008 you were a GM working in the EV space. I got to say this, how the hell did it take them so long? I mean, if you started working on it in 2008, and only now, I mean, okay, so I know there have been vehicles on the road before that, but only now we're really getting it, that's a long time.
[00:05:03] Alisyn Malek: Yeah, so what's funny is when I started in 2008, I was actually working with people who had worked on the EV1, which was GM's first sort of modern era electric vehicle. And they were like, oh, the Volt's never going to launch. This is just another science project. They were really disheartened, frankly, from their experience working on the EV1. And so, it's really funny now to actually get to see this come kind of full circle, but automotive takes a while in terms of innovation. And so, yes, it's been a while and if you watch the different trends in terms of public policy globally, it's a global industry that's impacting the product mix. It makes sense as to why now it's becoming sort of full-fledged.
[00:05:46] Jan Griffiths: Mm. I love that. So, tell us about May Mobility. What made you leave? I mean, such an iconic company like General Motors and go into May Mobility. What's that all about?
[00:05:59] Alisyn Malek: So, I had been at GM ventures and actually put together the sort of basis of the relationship between GM and Cruise, which at the time was Cruise Automation and did such a good pitch that the M & A team took over and Cruise is now wholly owned by GM. And I then went into strategy while I was at GM looking at how the company could actually bring Cruise's technology to market. So, this was late 2016 into early 2017, there were going to be thousands of vehicles in market providing rideshare service in 2019, and having been an engineer that had to validate safety systems I was skeptical that it would get validated and then skeptical in terms of the business model. There were a lot of changes going on. You know, ride-share had been out for a while, but now there are studies coming out of New York City showing with ride-share in the city traffic was actually moving more slowly. As I thought about it, there's this great new technology. Why would we do the same thing when we knew the same thing was actually having worse outcomes for people getting where they needed to go? So that was what really inspired me to leave and join Ed Olson, who is my co-founder and is still the CEO at May Mobility because it was a different vision. How can we simplify the areas that we need to be able to operate by doing fixed routes and things like that? And how do we actually partner with communities to understand where they have transportation challenges so we could come in and alleviate congestion problems as opposed to potentially adding to them?
[00:07:38] Jan Griffiths: What sort of skill set did you have to draw upon in your role at May Mobility because you were the COO, is that correct?
[00:07:46] Alisyn Malek: Correct. I was the COO, which meant, especially in startups, you have to do whatever nobody else is there to do. Sort of get it going and then hire up a team to go do the thing. Coming out of a venture capital space, working on the finance side of things was pretty straightforward. So, I pulled on those skill sets. I also run an artist collective so not that it is a big brand by any means, but I've gone through the branding process creating awareness, getting, you know, getting out in the local news. So, I kind of understood some of the basics of marketing and how it's important to make sure people are aware of what you're doing. And then operations, it's just sort of something that's, I think as an engineer and you have to work through a lot of like project planning, it comes a little naturally. And so that was able to pull on some of those skill sets. And then, learn things like customer success and sales on the fly but also a big part of the COO's role is to see the gap in the company, fill it as much as you can, but go higher and bring in the right leadership to be able to add that skill set to the company. And so that was a lot of what I did was thinking about where do we need to grow in order to make sure that we'll be prepared as we continue forward.
[00:09:02] Jan Griffiths: After May Mobility, then what happens?
[00:09:05] Alisyn Malek: So, after my mobility, I realized that I wanted to work in sort of a bigger way. So, when you're in a startup, the only thing you have capacity to do is the startup, but seeing a lot of the changes that were happening in the automotive industry, at that time, so this is late 2019, early 2020, before people realized how big the pandemic was going to be. Automakers were trying to evolve themselves into electrified mobility companies. Uber and Lyft had gone public and were actually struggling in the public markets because their business model doesn't work in every city, everywhere, and that was starting to become more apparent. And seeing all of these sorts of efforts towards innovation without asking some of the fundamental, does-this-business-make-sense type of questions, I wanted to be able to step back having been in product development, having been out providing transportation service in communities, and see if there is a way that I could leverage that broad perspective to help push things forward. And so I actually had the opportunity to start up a new project as a part of SAFE, which is an NGO based in D. C. Historically, they focused on U. S. energy and transportation policy. And for the project that we were starting up, the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility, we were actually going to be looking from a global perspective, at what were system-level opportunities to drive decarbonization in transportation. And that allowed me to look both at the movement of goods and learn more about the freight transportation space, as well as the movement of people.
[00:10:39] Jan Griffiths: You seem to me to be very much mission-driven, and mobility is such a big word, but what is it, Alisyn Malek, what is it that drives you? You're on a mission and I want to understand more about where that passion is coming from. Spill.
[00:10:57] Alisyn Malek: Yes. So, my passion really is about helping others create economic opportunity for themselves. So, in addition to the work that I do in automotive, I do a lot of work in the startup community here in Detroit and more broadly in Michigan, because I think it's really impactful. But mobility is impactful in the same way. Our entire economy is underpinned by mobility. Our health and life outcomes are underpinned by our access to mobility. So, when I think about if I only have, you know, finite energy, where can I focus it to have the biggest impact? To me, mobility is such a great space to do it in part because like I said it underpins everything. But also, in part because it's changing so quickly right now. And I guess I'm one of those weird people that enjoy things changing quickly. I find it exciting and invigorating. So I figured it's a good space to be able to dive in with.
[00:11:53] Jan Griffiths: And if all of that wasn't enough, then you decided to write a book. Tell us about that.
[00:11:59] Alisyn Malek: Yeah. So, the book really stemmed from my experiences having worked in the auto industry. And then with May Mobility, I was working with transit professionals. I was working with city planners and there's not many people that get to go from sort of automotive component design all the way up to city planning or, you know, through my policy work. I wasn't directly working on helping to craft legislation around electrification and some of the bills that have recently come out, but my colleagues that were working on other projects were and they had really fundamental questions about the way EVs are designed, and I happen to know because I used to work on them and it just dawned on me how important it is right now that more people understand other aspects of transportation be it policy, product design for vehicles, product design for infrastructure and roads, electrification, automation, even looking at drones and EV charging. All of those different aspects are pulling together industries that haven't typically had to collaborate. So, we really haven't had automotive engineers that understand road design since the 1920s. That's really when our road infrastructure started to get figured out. It was the 50s into the 60s as the federal government rolled out the National Highway Plan and started to fund it.
And since then, it's been sort of like hands-off. The road people do the road stuff, the car people do the car stuff, and none of it has to touch the electrical grid so everybody can go on their merry way. But now everything is changing so quickly and intersecting that everybody needs to get back into each other's business, but there's not actually a good place to just go and learn about that. So the book was sort of my gift to anyone that's trying to understand the variety of things happening in the future of mobility and to be able Just to touch the surface of a lot of different things and then figure out what interests them most, but at least be able to give that broad based understanding.
[00:14:07] Jan Griffiths: Yeah and you bring up a good point. You mentioned things like policy and road infrastructure. And in traditional auto legacy companies, we like to talk about moving away from silos and moving into more of an ecosystem. And then when you start to talk about mobility, then that is an even bigger, broader definition and ecosystem.
And all of these stakeholders in this ecosystem don't necessarily speak the same language or have the same culture and here they are all coming together under this broad umbrella called mobilities.
[00:14:46] Alisyn Malek: Automotive companies rarely have to encounter cyclist activist groups that work on a local level to create bike infrastructure. But at the same time, their desired outcomes in terms of road safety intersect and that's where I think it really is an interesting time. Because like you pointed out, the ecosystem isn't even just the OEMs and the supplier ecosystem anymore. It's everything that moves and how we fuel that, be it through gas, through hydrogen, through battery electric vehicles. That's all the ecosystem and it's a lot bigger. There are a lot different, you know, languages that people use, pedagogies and perspectives. And I find it interesting to go learn about those different perspectives and pedagogies. And just like to encourage more people to be curious because I think that's really what's going to bring us together to be able to design a future that we want in terms of how we get around.
[00:15:45] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. You got to be curious about it. You better be comfortable with getting out of your comfort zone.
[00:15:52] Alisyn Malek: Yes. Yeah, so that getting comfortable with getting out of your comfort zone is actually the core of a recent project that I've kicked off of doing workshops that really stemmed from a recent dinner that I was at. So, I was at a dinner, professional networking dinner. There were 10 people around the table, representation from automakers and tier ones: HR, manufacturing, product development, and policy. So, out of 10 people, we had pretty good representation, as we sat around the table and we talked about the future and innovation and everything going on with electrification. There was a lot of reticence. There were a lot of questions, there was doubt, and it was interesting because it was like, "Oh, well, what about this?" And I happened to have, you know, had a class on it or talked with somebody that's working in that space. It'd be like, oh, you know, one of them was about, mining. How are we going to have enough materials for batteries? And I was like, "Oh, there's a whole initiative at the federal level to figure out: A. How we mine better, and B. How do we spur better recycling infrastructure?" And this person just wasn't aware of that. I was only aware of it because I spent that time in the policy world. So, it was actually one of my old colleagues doing the work as we were talking about manufacturing and it was like, well, are we going to have the people with the right skills to be able to do this work? And I happened to do a little bit of consulting to help in the skill development space. So, I was able to give an update there and it dawned on me, A. There's not a space where people feel safe to ask these questions. And even if that space existed, the breadth of questions that people have right now, which is totally reasonable, is wide enough that there are very few people that could kind of start to answer a lot of them. And I realized, you know, I've had a very wandering career path, but it's put me in a unique position to be able to at least guide people in the right direction. Maybe I don't have the answer, but I'm like, I know somebody's working on it over here, you should research that. And so, that dinner inspired me to actually put together a workshop series which is focused on how do we get comfortable with being uncomfortable because that is sort of the nature of the world that we live in that nobody's calling out right now. So there's lots of, you know, great proclamations, some of which have been stepped back in terms of how quickly we're going to electrify and this commitment to change. But when you're on the ground doing the work and you're like, I don't even know if I have a supplier that can do the thing, you're asking me, it seems a bit disingenuous.
But within a company, like it's not always culturally okay to question that. So, I wanted to create a space where it's like, let's ask the question. Maybe we don't have an answer. Maybe the answer is deal with it, but at least creating that safe space and trying to evolve the mindset from one, you know, the industry historically has a what's called a closed mindset, where, as I like to say, you're fully baked. So, whatever idea you came out with, whatever project you've got, it's the best that you could ever possibly do. So, if somebody's questioning it or pointing out something that's wrong, they're actually saying you are wrong and worthless. And that never feels good. That's why you get reactions of frustration or anger. Why would you even ask that question? But if you evolve into this mindset of an open mindset, it's all about this idea that becoming is better than being, getting used to being on that journey. And as we go from traditional automotive engineering, where I like to joke, it was like a 2 percent change to the product. You go through the full validation cycle and you'd probably be able to meet production on time to now, it's like an entirely new product, an entirely new supply base. That's different. And it needs a different approach. We need to be able to ask questions and we need to know that sometimes, at the very start, we won't have all the answers but we'll get them along the way. And that requires a culture that needs that open mindset of being comfortable with like, oh, got that one wrong, we're going to go back to the drawing board and try again, and being able just to get comfortable with that growth. And so far, the response with it has been really, really positive. Just about creating that space for the conversation and calling out what I think is intrinsically obvious to people. They're like, I know it feels different, and you know, we'll talk about wanting to adopt the Silicon Valley approach but nobody's really talking about that soft skill side. It's not just innovation for innovation's sake. It's actually getting people comfortable with that product development process where you have questions that you have to work through on the path to production.
[00:20:33] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. This fear of failure is definitely still in our industry, in our beloved auto industry, it's there, isn't it? And what you're doing, just like you said, you are creating a safe space for people to have those conversations, but I want to take this right back to some of your opening comments around working at GM. Again, I stress 2008 in the world of the EV and you said that it took a long time for this type of innovation to come through the system at a major OEM and we know that that is not an innovation culture. We know that an innovation culture is a culture that does not have fear. It's not a fear-based culture and that you can try a product design. You can make those small bets, but make a lot of them. You can look at a product, look at an idea, have some level of criteria, but pass or fail that and move it on to the next stage. Move quickly. Say yes or no and move on. And that's not the way we've operated in this industry. You know that. You've lived it. As you look back on your career with the startups all the way back into your time with OEM, what is it about the culture that slowed that innovation down so much?
[00:21:55] Alisyn Malek: I ran into a lot of very experienced people, which is great, that had the thing hadn't worked. They had tried it, and it hadn't worked. And I'm putting air quotes around that because the state of the technology 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago didn't work, but this idea that the capacity of silicon, the ability for sensors to actually have improved over the last 10 years to be more robust or reliable, it was like, nope, we tried it once, it didn't work; we can't try it again but if you work in the electronic space you know silicon manufacturing is getting better. Everything's getting smaller. You can get more robust and reliable systems, even tinier, taking lower energy. And so, to write something off because it didn't work once is terrible product planning because other people are working to evolve it. And so, it's that culture just like, I appreciate your, your wisdom. Instead of just telling me it doesn't work. Why don't you tell me why it didn't work then? What part of it failed? If it was not sensitive of enough of a sensor or something like that, okay, now I understand. It's not, we have to like, not use any of this, we just need to make sure it meets our requirements. And that openness to revisiting or that things could have changed. That did not feel like it was there all the time. At the same time, I was working with suppliers that had never worked in automotive before as well. So, it was like I had the people within the company that were like, we've tried this before 15 years ago, it's not going to work. Oh, but by the way, the only company that will quote this component that you need, I was working in power electronics on charging, the only company that will quote it is a company that has experience in power electronics that are stationary. So, they know the power, which is good, but stationary is very different than having to deal with vibration cycles, the hot and cold cycles that you have to use to validate.
And it was like, I can't, I can't take this no, no, no feedback. Cause if I did, we wouldn't have a supplier at all. And that's also not an answer, so I think I was fortunate in that we were such at the bleeding edge that we had to throw some parts of the rule book out of the way or we never would have delivered the Volt at all. And it was an award-winning product. And so, as you think about, can the industry innovate, it can. Like that car, the timeline that we took to get it out there, and then the Bolt or the Chevy Spark that was a predecessor to the Bolt, that came right out after that, I worked on that program too. I worked on advanced charging for that program, and it was, it's funny now, but we got DC charging into production, not because it was the right thing for the customer, but because every other team needed the technology in order to keep the cars up and running so they could do their testing.
So, it had to be on the manufacturing saleable build so they could actually do all of the vehicle testing they needed to do. So, it went into production. And it was like these types of decisions of necessity like we were innovating, but it slowed down. I think the focus, you know, moved more towards autonomy. That was the sexy new thing that would help, you know, increase the stock price. But now, the electrification transition isn't about keeping up with the tech news. It's keeping up with what regulations require and not even just regulations in the US, regulations globally. And so, I think that's where you see, you know, not onesie twosies at the edge of a product line, but wholesale across the product line focus on electrification.
[00:25:43] Jan Griffiths: I'm concerned, quite frankly, for the OEMs as to how they will transform their design process to be able to innovate and come up with these new ideas fast enough because as we all know, the way that the OEM operates tends to filter down through the supply base. And we have a lot of this silo design function activity, which you clearly saw in your early days and that has to transition away to more of a cross-functional design approach. And we hear about Tesla and the fact that Tesla puts all their people for a certain product function or area of the product in the room. So, you don't have the electronics guy, you know, at the other end of the building and the mechanical guy over here, they're all together and they're looking at it holistically towards a function or a pain point. And that's because I'm assuming because they came at it since they were an electronics company trying to build a car, not a car company trying to put electronics into the vehicle. Is there any truth to that?
[00:26:50] Alisyn Malek: I think there is definitely some truth to that. And I think primarily where we need to get back on the rails is the words I'll choose to use is what problem are we solving and what data tells us that that is the problem to solve. The number of decisions that are made within automotive because an executive has a gut feel or a passion, not because there was data taken or there was an ill-structured customer study done early on without well defining or actually getting an MVP into people's hands like, that, I think, fundamentally is what is wrong. Then, yes, there's how we work together and bring people to solve the challenge together. But I do think automotive is getting better once they're clear about what problem they're solving to get the right people in the room. I think the biggest problem that the OEMs are going to be tackling is how do you actually make sure you're solving the right problem? Because each problem is going to take resources, it's going to take capital, it's going to take people, it's going to take expertise. How do you pick the right ones and how do you cadence which one you're going to solve first? That's what allows you actually to innovate on the right things at the right pace. And that's where that culture of constant customer feedback is tough for always, in particular in the U. S., where your relationship with the end user is a lot through the dealer. In some cases, that's a good thing. In some cases, it's lesser than stellar experience. And so, even being able to get that feedback is hard and being able to make changes to the vehicle that respond to people's needs. That's I think one of Tesla's biggest innovations early on, which just being able to do over the air updates. The OEMs can do the big stuff when they put their energy towards it. I think where we really see the struggle is when they take their eye off the ball of what are the big things we need to be solving right now. And it kind of goes back to business as usual. Okay, we just got to put out, you know, a broad product lineup, like that focus on what is the next product or service innovation that will bring revenue but it's also a problem for the customer first; I think that's what's got to change. Like even, I don't remember which German OEM it was, but you had to pay to unlock the capability to heat your seats like that is a fundamental sort of misunderstanding of A. The relationship that you've already created where you have the expectation that you paid for the hardware, the hardware works and B. How do you communicate that that relationship is changing and why? The why there, I think, was just to be able to pull in revenue, which the companies need to do car rep, like car margins, aren't great. But thinking about that whole experience is where I think we really start to lose focus because historically the experience was like, how does it do on a racetrack?
Like those were the Corvettes were the ones where we're going to worry about this, the driving experience there. Not the, as a woman, where do you put your purse when you get into the front seat? How do you keep the eye on your toddlers who are like fighting? Like, think about it, the minivan was a huge innovation and it still is a market dominant transportation mode because it solved a real need for people. And I think if we could get the industry away, like just from Wall Street, just shut it down, just, yes, they need to be able to respond, but stop trying to pretend to be a tech company and actually be a tech company. The whole idea of a tech company from a startup perspective is that you solve a problem that people have and are willing to pay, like get back to that fundamental and then branch out.
[00:31:08] Jan Griffiths: And this, since you talk about the dealer involvement, and this is something I hadn't thought about before. So, basically that the data that's coming, identifying the customer pain point directly from the consumer is filtered through the dealer and that can be a problem, right?
[00:31:26] Alisyn Malek: Yeah. So, it's filtered through the dealer or there's just not a channel for it at all. Like think about if somebody, if a car comes off lease, it's only two, three years old that same car may still be coming off the line, pretty much, you know, mild tweaks, but there could be great insights coming from the person that bought it used. I think there's going to be some opportunity as you see more connected vehicle technologies get integrated. I still don't quite understand the future path that's being chartered forward by most OEMs as they are taking back the reins on, especially the connectivity and sort of infotainment aspect of the car but I'm curious to see what they roll out. And I hope it starts from a center of how are we solving the problem better? Not that we solved it and we're going to lock out your phone. How are we doing it better? So, it becomes absolutely indispensable. I was having a conversation last night with two friends who are EV owners. One owns a Tesla, the other owns a Ford, the Mach-E. And as they were talking, we were actually talking about, the person with the Mach-E was going to be taking a long road trip. And I have a Bolt, so I was kind of walking them through which charge infrastructure is available on that road trip. And the Tesla driver was like, well, yeah, can't you just put the destination in to your nav and then it'll just tell you where to charge. And the Mach-E owner was like, I don't think so, like it uses Bing. I think it uses Bing Maps. I'm not sure. And like that, the Tesla owner historically had used their phone for navigation but because the experience in the Tesla met her needs better, she changed her habits. And that's where like, that's not that big, like routing plus charging destination is not R and D.
[00:33:19] Jan Griffiths: Right?
[00:33:20] Alisyn Malek: That's not massive technological innovation. You probably have to have a better software license to keep things updated, that type of stuff. But it's just really thinking about as an owner and a driver, what challenges am I going to face and how can we make that easier on you?
[00:33:36] Jan Griffiths: So then you went to New Lab and maybe you could explain a little bit what New Lab is all about.
[00:33:42] Alisyn Malek: Yeah, so New Lab, I helped to get their Detroit site launched and New Lab is focused on helping founders to be able to scale their businesses with a focus for startups that are working in hard tech, specifically in tough areas like mobility, energy and materials. And so, the opportunity here in Detroit was for New Lab to partner up with Michigan Central in Corktown in Detroit and to create a founder and startup community and ecosystem that supports mobility innovation. So, taking advantage of the OEMs and the tier ones that are here, how can we create more startup interactivity there but also taking advantage of a really unique policy innovation. The city of Detroit has a transportation innovation zone that's around the district where New Lab exists. And with that Transportation Innovation Zone, their Office of Mobility Innovation is actually able to fast track short term permits, which may seem like wonky and not that interesting until you are a startup that has a great innovation that just wants to be able to show the world that it works, and it takes you two years to get a permit because they didn't know which permitting department to send you to. So, this fast tracking helps the city learn about new technologies, allow companies to come and demonstrate. So, it creates a pull for people to come to Detroit and show those innovations and grow those innovations. But it also helps the city to say, okay, let's get it through once, short permit, we'll understand what it is. And while we're understanding what it is, we can go back and look at, like, what the permitting process actually should be. So, kind of working hand in hand for all ,of that learning.
[00:35:24] Jan Griffiths: Again, it goes back to that ecosystem, right? Understanding the ecosystem and how all these stakeholders work and play together.
[00:35:31] Alisyn Malek: Yes, exactly.
[00:35:33] Jan Griffiths: Now, the New Lab is in a building called the Book Depository, which is right next to the old Michigan train station now called Michigan Central, correct?
[00:35:43] Alisyn Malek: So, they're all in a district together that has historically been a multimodal destination for Detroit and is growing to be that again.
[00:35:51] Jan Griffiths: Yeah, I love it. And what a great building I've been there a few times now and to see the, to feel the energy in there first and foremost, but to see the facilities that are available.
[00:36:03] Alisyn Malek: Yeah. There's shop space to be able to build up your device areas, to be able to be cordoned off to set up testing. There are also many venture capitalists have offices there. We've also got the state's council on future mobility and electrification their house there So, it's not just the startups it's what are those other resources that they need access to to help them scale, making sure that they're present and in the ecosystem as well.
[00:36:31] Jan Griffiths: But then your mission pulled you into the company that you have launched recently and that is SkillFusion. Tell us, please, tell me, I want to know more about SkillFusion. What's that all about?
[00:36:49] Alisyn Malek: Yeah, so SkillFusion is a software platform that aims to be essentially a customer success tool for companies that work in EV charging operation and maintenance. Seems wonky, feels sort of, you know, second tier need until you read the news articles that are coming out about how awful the publicly available charging infrastructure in the U. S. is. So, lots of people are purchasing EVs which is super exciting to see many of them would like to keep purchasing EVs. But when you ask them about their experience, the biggest pain point is actually nothing to do with the car. It's everything to do with their access to charging infrastructure. So, for people that live in a home where they can have charging in their garage, usually a bit easier. For people like me who live in a multifamily building that doesn't have charging, it is harder. Or if you have street parking, it's a challenge A. Because there isn't a lot of public infrastructure, but B. Even in public infrastructure that's installed, a lot of it isn't functional. It may be missing a cable. It may have a power electronic issue. It may just have a card reader issue. It's a variety, but the likelihood of pulling up to a charge station and having it not work is pretty high, and that's a huge problem as we think about going from first adopters of electric vehicles to sort of mainstream. We can't be having that kind of experience. There's no patience for that. And there will be more, you know, wear and tear just due to the nature of use as more people buy EVs. So, the co-founders of the company as they came together and saw, you know, electrification is picking up, but the EV charge stations are bad. And like with more getting installed, it's really only going to get worse because the biggest reason they aren't up and running is there aren't enough people to be able to go out and do maintenance.
[00:38:40] Jan Griffiths: Is that right?
[00:38:41] Alisyn Malek: Yeah. There just aren't enough people.
[00:38:43] Jan Griffiths: It's a people focused issue?
[00:38:44] Alisyn Malek: It's a people-focused issue. Yeah. All of this new technology still needs humans to keep it up and running. And so, that's where we want to come in. We want to enable people to enter this workspace. It's a great job opportunity. So, we're working at the starting point of careers with technicians all the way through supporting electricians to be able to advance their skills, to be able to help with maintaining these systems. So, on this, we have the skill development side to make sure we can grow that talent base. And then we have the sort of people management side. So, as an O and M or Operations and Maintenance company, you've got a workforce. Some of them will be certified to do different types of work and you probably need more of them as more of this infrastructure gets installed. So we wanted to help those types of companies be able to manage their workforce. Who's on your team? What are they trained to do? Who could upskill, like, what types of demand are you seeing? You know which people are the closest to getting that certification? Let's, you know, go get those people certified. And figuring out ways to actually be able to plug into their existing dispatch system. So, if you've got, you know, 50 buildings in a metro market and you've got a dispatch system, you're getting a couple of calls a day for different types of issues. We can help to say, if this is the issue you're seeing, here's the person on your staff, you will already know from your dispatch system who's closest, we'll help you figure out who has the right certification. So, actually having an API be able to feed into that system. So, managing the talent pipeline, but then also just managing the talent and making sure that we're getting the right people out to the job the first time.
[00:40:22] Jan Griffiths: Well, you certainly practice what you preach, don't you? It's all about understanding the customer problem the user experience, identifying the need, and then creating the technology and the solution to fit it, and then scaling it and making it happen.
[00:40:38] Alisyn Malek: Exactly. And I think that's the most fun part with this one is there's so much need right now and so much awareness of the problem that it's, really, allowed us to accelerate very quickly.
[00:40:51] Jan Griffiths: Alisyn, out of the 21 traits of authentic leadership, pick two that you believe are the most important that resonate with you the most personally. But I want to ask you this another way, too. What are the two that are the most important for our culture and leadership in this industry as we move at light speed into the world of mobility? Give me two of those traits.
[00:41:18] Alisyn Malek: The first trait that to me is really important to exhibit and to try to teach your teams by example is mindset and really having the growth mindset. Being able to laugh at yourself, if you get something wrong and creating a welcoming space so people can see. Because you have practiced what you preach, they can see they can ask you questions, they can see that if you are wrong or you take a misstep that you come out and own it. It helps everybody in your organization to be able to be like, okay, it's okay for them, it's okay for me. And that to me is something that's really important. In part, when you're trying to innovate that quickly, stuff is going to break, stuff is going to go wrong. So, being able to create that learning culture, that open mindset is going to help your team gel and be able to rally together to be able to do more faster. And a big part of what that does is it helps to build trust which is the second trait that I think is really important. People need to be able to trust, like, especially when you're doing crazy things and you're asking them like, to believe in the vision. I don't have the full roadmap to get there but we're going to get there. They have to have a reason to trust you. The open mindset helps because you've created a dialogue back and forth. But you also have to demonstrate back that you trust them. That only goes so far, so if they keep messing up, like, you have to show people there are consequences. But it has to be a two-way street, because that, again, really creates the strength of the team that's going to allow you to achieve things you otherwise never would have thought imaginable.
[00:43:02] Jan Griffiths: In your COO role at May Mobility, how did you create that?
[00:43:07] Alisyn Malek: So, one of the things I did to help to start to create that type of an environment was realizing we needed to rethink our approach to our site launch planning, meetings, teams, how we did it. And so, the first thing I did is I set up our project tracking. I stepped in and I did the work because I knew that my team was out doing all of the things. So, I had the capacity to be like, okay, here's the big picture. So, I owned that I hadn't given that tool to them that I hadn't created a very clear high-level roadmap. And that meant a lot to the team. We had a person in a position who also wasn't great at communicating that. And so, I had to own, like, we've got to make some changes because this just isn't working. And that meant a lot to the team when I acknowledged that I needed to step in and make changes because I hadn't set things up the right way.
[00:43:59] Jan Griffiths: Now, let's take a turn into the personal world of Alisyn Malek, shall we?
[00:44:03] Alisyn Malek: Sure, let's do it.
[00:44:06] Jan Griffiths: I'm sure everybody just cringes when I say that, but people love to hear it and they love to know. Now, you live in the city of Detroit. What's your favorite restaurant?
[00:44:14] Alisyn Malek: Oh, that is a good question. I'm the mother of a two-year-old, so I eat dinner at home a lot. Luckily, my husband's a good cook, so let me think about that for a second. My favorite restaurant, I did recently get to go out to is Barda, which is an Argentine, like barbecue type restaurant over on Grand River and that was really good. The meat was great. Their vegetable dishes were fantastic, and it was really cool. I hadn't realized how much that area of town was starting to build back up. So, it was really cool to see as well.
[00:44:45] Jan Griffiths: Yeah, I love that. I love that. What's the place in the city that you like to visit or walk? Is there a favorite spot?
[00:44:54] Alisyn Malek: Right out. So, especially when the leaves are still on the trees, in front of the DIA, there are actually sidewalks that have a good tree canopy. And like really nice benches and there's some sculptures and things. So, on a summer day, like you've got good shade but beautiful views. So, that's probably my favorite place to just walk and like sit on a bench and enjoy being outside.
[00:45:19] Jan Griffiths: I love that. Last book you read?
[00:45:21] Alisyn Malek: I am in the middle like I think I've got two chapters left on a book on the fall of Rome SPQR by Mary Beard
[00:45:32] Jan Griffiths: Now what piqued your interest in that?
[00:45:34] Alisyn Malek: So, I do read fiction as well, but sometimes I can be a history nut and as I think about how fast culture is changing right now and the environment that we live in from a political perspective, I got curious about other institutions that had turbulent times. And so, looking at the rise and fall of Rome, I was like, I'm going to read up on that because I don't know as much as I think I would like to and that feels like an interesting historical parallel.
[00:46:07] Jan Griffiths: Well, I think we have covered it. Alisyn Malek, thank you very much for joining us today.
[00:46:14] Alisyn Malek: Thank you so much, Jan. It's been a pleasure.
[00:46:21] Jan Griffiths: Thank you for listening to the Automotive Leaders Podcast. Click the listen link in the show notes to subscribe for free on your platform of choice. And don't forget to download the 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership PDF by clicking on the link below. And remember stay true to yourself, be you, and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership.