Meet Sandy Stojkovski, CEO Vitesco Technologies, North America

Meet Sandy Stojkovski, CEO Vitesco Technologies, North America

This episode is sponsored by Lockton, click here to learn more

Sandy Stojkovski’s career took off when, during her first year at Cooper-Standard Automotive — her first job out of college — the Vice President of Engineering hand-selected her to run a manufacturing operation. She’s been paying it forward ever since by taking chances on employees with potential.  

“I told him that I didn't think I was qualified,” Sandy recalls. “And he did something I will never forget. He told me he was choosing me not for my experience, but for the potential, he saw in me.”

After obtaining three degrees from the University of Michigan, Sandy climbed the ranks of seven positions at five different companies. Eventually, she landed in her current position as CEO of North America at Vitesco Technologies. 

Over the 18 years that have passed since she worked at Ford Motor Company by day and took master’s courses at night, she gained invaluable knowledge about business development. 

However, the most important lessons she’s learned are about leadership. 

Sandy's leadership model is an inverted pyramid structure rather than the traditional hierarchy with a CEO at the top and everyone else at the bottom.

“It’s about the team,” she says. “I serve as a player and a coach for the team … I care, and it's about seeing the team succeed.”

In this episode, Sandy shares hard-won lessons on how to overcome imposter syndrome, the mental health (and thus productivity) benefits of maintaining a routine, and how to build trust among your teams.

“If a leader is trustworthy and is focused on competency, carrying sincerity, and reliability," she says, "everyone wants to follow you.”

Other themes discussed in this episode: 

  • Gaining trust by showing you care
  • Why getting buy-in from employees is a slow but worthwhile process 
  • Why it’s important to attract and retain Gen Z employees (as well as how to do it)
  • How to be the leader you wish you’d had in the past 

Featured Guest: 

What she does: Sandy is the CEO of North America at Vitesco Technologies, a Regensburg, Germany-based automotive supplier for “clean, smart, and electrified” drivetrain and powertrain technologies.  

On Gravitas: “Anyone can carry on with the status quo. That's called a manager. In most cases, a leader with gravitas is willing to do the unpopular and sometimes uncomfortable work of creating a new vision, and leading people there.”

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[2:05] Back to the beginning: Sandy explains her background, from her roots in southeast Michigan as a varsity athlete, flutist and dancer to her extensive experience in the automotive industry as a planning analyst, engineering director, VP and eventually CEO.

[16:26] Taking a leap of faith: Long after her first boss took a chance on her, Sandy realized he promoted employees based on potential instead of just demonstrated experience. She talks about how his approach influenced her approach to leadership.

[20:01] Making up for lack of experience: One of the most important lessons Sandy learned early in her career was how to overcome imposter syndrome. She explains why putting in the work can help make up for lack of experience through on-the-ground learning.

[23:49] ‘Be the leader you wish you’d had’: At a previous job, Sandy learned to gauge people’s reactions when a meeting was over. She finds that post-meeting, some of the best ideas tend to come out — particularly if the leader of that meeting wasn’t making others comfortable enough to share.

[25:38] Flipping the pyramid: The majority of Sandy’s actions as a leader stem from her visualization of authority within her organization: It’s not a pyramid where she sits at the top as CEO. It's an inverted pyramid that starts with everyone working together as a team.   

[28:27] Nurturing a safe environment: Sandy understands that if her team members don’t feel safe, they won’t perform at a high level. She demonstrates why in a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), it’s increasingly important to be transparent and ask for input in order to foster psychological safety.

[31:38] Why it’s worth the extra time: Sandy is aware that her approach to leadership takes more time than simply giving commands. But she thinks it’s worth the extra effort because it takes a whole lot longer to get things done if there is no employee buy-in.

[32:59] There is no team without trust: A discussion of Sandy’s favorite of Jan’s 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership evolves into a point about why no company can function without trust: “Do you really think you can deliver the bottom line if you don't have your team? And do you really think you have your team if they don't trust you?”

[36:26] The power of Gen Z: Sandy discusses her perspective on attracting and retaining Gen Z. She says it's important to learn what they need and want and provide as much of that as possible (for example, ask them about their ideal return-to-work policy).

[42:07On Gravitas: Sandy’s definition of gravitas borrows from the David Foster Wallace definition of leadership: “It's not just enough to be visionary and to hope for a vision to come to reality,” she adds. “A leader with gravitas also isn't afraid to hope, and then uses even anger and courage to create a real pathway to achieving these harder, better things.”

[44:34] Find a routine and stick to it: It’s easy to get stressed when you have a leadership role, especially in the COVID-19 era. Sandy explains why sticking to a routine in your personal life, such as her tradition of never missing a workout, can have positive effects on your work life. 

Top quotes

[5:57] “He [her first boss] was really unique in seeing potential and choosing someone for potential instead of only demonstrated experience. So I am committed, as a leader, to continuing to pay it forward, looking for potential in others and not just demonstrated experience.”

[20:55] “A pretty important piece of overcoming that imposter syndrome was to say, Hmm, if you work hard enough at it, you can figure it out. And it's really about how quickly you can figure it out — not about if you're going to fail or not.”

[26:14] “I don't actually believe that being in leadership puts you at the top of the pyramid. I believe that it should be an inverted pyramid. It is about the team. I serve as a player and a coach for the team.”

[28:50] “We need the best of all of our team members contributing and pivoting and bringing new ideas and information forward. So you've got to have a psychologically safe culture. And I believe it happens from being very collaborative. … instead of pushing decisions on people, it's about engaging.”

[33:41] “If a leader is trustworthy, and is focused on competency, sincerity, and reliability, then you truly have the absolute ability to lead, and everyone wants to follow you. Because they see you care, they see you have the competency, they see you're sincere and reliable. This is what I focus on.”