Meet the ‘Godfather of the EV’ and CEO of Switch Mobility, Dr. Andy Palmer

Meet the ‘Godfather of the EV’ and CEO of Switch Mobility, Dr. Andy Palmer

The automotive industry is changing fast — and we’re not just talking about the pandemic. The electric vehicle revolution is going to be a shift as monumental as when cars first began selling on the market.

There’s no one who knows this better than Andy Palmer, also known as the “Godfather of the EV.” As the former COO of Nissan, Andy led the Nissan Leaf project, which became the world’s first mass-market EV, and has continued to work in new energy vehicles and batteries throughout his career.

According to Andy, startups and even old companies who don’t catch up with the EV revolution are going to fall behind, and many will fail completely. And an essential part of survival requires reflecting on their company culture and making necessary changes.

“This is so big that getting your corporate culture right is the only way that you could get to a 70% possibility of success. It doesn't guarantee success, but it gets there an awful lot more if you have people that basically know what they're working for, like what they're working for, are consistent in what they're working for, and have the energy to deliver what they're working for,” Andy says. “And you only do that by setting the tone and the culture of the companies that you're working in.”

Tune in to the first episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast as Jan sits down with Andy to talk about the EV revolution and what it will take for leaders in the auto industry to survive it and thrive. Make sure to stay ‘till the end of this episode to hear more about Andy’s glory days as a punk rocker and he and Jan’s shared admiration for Vivienne Westwood!

Themes discussed on this episode: 

  • Why it’s important to step outside the corporate bubble
  • The importance of values for auto supply chain leaders
  • Why company culture will be crucial to the EV revolution
  • How diversity makes a better team and a better product
  • What apprenticeships can do that formal higher education can’t

Featured Guest: Dr. Andy Palmer

What he does: Andy, known as the “Godfather of EVs,” is the former CEO of Aston Martin and former COO of Nissan. Today, he is the CEO of Switch Mobility, a zero-emissions EV bus and van manufacturer, chairman of the board at InoBat  battery company and chairman of the electric scooter company Hilo.

On leadership: “A work ethic is really, really important. You don't get to be a leader if you don't have a work ethic. So I would say that's almost a hygiene factor … the importance of being genuine, the importance of being yourself, the importance of having a clear vision of your own values, and then living by those values. The ability to disagree with your boss, but not necessarily in a violent way … learning to influence by doing and not simply blowing in the wind, which so many people do."

Learn more about your host, Jan Griffiths in this short video


Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[2:05] Lifelong commitment: After leading the Nissan Leaf project, the world’s first mass-market EV, Andy Palmer decided he wanted to focus his career on zero-emissions vehicles. He discusses how his work in this area has continued since leaving Aston Martin in 2020.

[6:02] Popping the corporate bubble: Jan and Andy discuss the importance of stepping outside of the corporate world, and the opportunities that can come as a result.

[9:18] Predicting the future: How did Andy know that EVs would become the next big thing for the automotive industry nearly a decade ago? He breaks down a few major points.

[14:50] Staying true to your values: How can you be an authentic leader and show up for your team when your boss doesn’t align with your values? Andy offers his two cents.

[20:28] ‘We’re still humans’: The shift from conventional engines to EVs is so monumental that most companies will fail unless they also adapt their company culture for the better, Andy explains in this segment.

[23:38] No magic model: Jan and Andy discuss the idea that the automotive industry should import California’s ‘tech bro’ culture. “I think you have to create your own culture to start with,” Andy says.

[31:43] ‘A more competitive team’: Andy talks about the “ female parallel board” at Aston Martin and discusses why he feels so strongly about the importance of diversity in the automotive industry.

[35:44] 21 traits: Of Jan’s 21 traits of authentic leadership, Andy couldn’t pick just one — because an authentic leader needs many of them, he says.

[37:04] In-person vs remote: Andy shares his thoughts on the debate about remote versus face-to-face work.

[41:21] The value of apprenticeship: Andy discusses why apprenticeships should, in some cases, replace higher education, and how The Palmer Foundation creates apprenticeship opportunities for young aspiring automotive engineers.

[48:11] ‘The glory days’: Andy and Jan get into the personal questions: Andy’s ‘glory days’ as a punk rocker in the late 1970s, Vivienne Westwood, and work distractions.

[53:07] Advice for auto industry leaders: Andy’s biggest tip for automotive industry leaders is to have a clear work ethic — know your values and live by them.

Top quotes

[16:45] “Our staff that work for us all want to think that there's predictability when they go to their boss, I think, you've got to believe that my boss today is going to think in the same logical pattern that he thought yesterday and the day before … good leaders need to be consistent, and they need to have a fairly understandable value set. And they need to live to those values every day.”

[20:18] “If you truly believe in the value set that you've set yourselves, then you've got to stand behind them, otherwise you become fake. And everybody can see that you're fake.” 

[22:22] “[EV] is so big that getting your corporate culture right is the only way that you could get to a 70% possibility of success. It doesn't guarantee success, but it gets there an awful lot more if you have people that basically know what they're working for, like what they're working for, consistent in what they're working for, and have the energy to deliver what they're working for. And you only do that by setting the tone and the culture of the companies that you're working in.”

[24:41] “I think you have to create your own culture to start with. I don't think you can import somebody else's. And I don't think there's any magic model … you have to create your own story, your own challenge, which is unique to your particular position. And something that every employee can relate to.”

[34:18] “To me, ‘bro culture,’ for want of a better word, is self-defeating because it makes your company less competitive. If you can, embrace diversity — not so that you've got the right gender and racial mix, but because it makes you a more competitive team.”