Understanding EV Startups & Industry Dynamics with Larry Burns

Understanding EV Startups & Industry Dynamics with Larry Burns

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Meet Larry Burns, a leading voice in the world of mobility. From serving as Corporate VP of R&D for General Motors to consulting for tech companies like Waymo, Larry bridges the gap between legacy OEM and tech-startup worlds. 

During this episode of the Automotive Leaders podcast, Larry addresses critical questions about the EV startup DNA, what enables its success, and the challenges traditional automotive culture poses. He revealed why traditional OEMs struggled with EV innovation and discussed how leadership played into the success of tech companies like BYD and Tesla in the EV market. He highlights the need for empowerment and a culture that embraces failure as a learning opportunity.

Discussing the kind of leadership the auto industry needs, Larry advocates for the "power of and," suggesting that effective leadership encompasses multiple traits rather than a single characteristic, emphasizing empathy, teamwork, and setting the proper examples in leadership behavior.

Furthermore, Larry highlights the evolving nature of leadership in today's world, where personal and professional lives are intertwined. He stresses maintaining personal values while balancing work and family life.

As the podcast wrapped up, Larry said that moving from ICE to BEV marks only the beginning. He stressed how technology is reshaping travel habits and urged leaders to adapt. Larry emphasized how crucial it is for companies to grasp these changes in mobility and encouraged them to grab onto the new tech opportunities coming their way.

Themes discussed in this episode:

  • The importance of authentic leadership traits in fostering innovative learning environments.
  • Challenges in maintaining a healthy work-life balance, especially in demanding industries.
  • The transition from Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)
  • The success of EV startups and their unique approach to technology.
  • The impact of traditional automotive culture on hindering innovation.
  • The transformative potential of communication and information technology in shaping the future of mobility.
  • Difference between traditional OEM and EV startups

Featured: Larry Burns 

What he does: Larry is a prominent advisor in mobility, logistics, manufacturing, energy, and innovation. With a distinguished background as General Motors’ Corporate Vice President of Research & Development and Planning, Larry now consults for various organizations, including Kitson & Partners, Niron Magnetics, and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE). His expertise lies in autonomous electric vehicles and their transformative impact on transportation services, a topic he explores in his book “Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car―And How It Will Reshape Our World.”

On leadership: “There’s not one magic pill a person can take to be a great leader. You must be very sensitive to the people you’re leading. If you don’t set the right examples in your behavior, whether it’s integrity or treating people with dignity and respect, if you overreact to someone who had a failure, that’ll spread throughout the organization instantly.”

Mentioned in this episode:

Episode Highlights:

[00:03:07] EV Challenges: Jan poses the common question to Larry: Why do traditional automakers struggle with EV innovation? 

[00:06:35] Tesla and BYD’s DNA: Larry discusses Tesla and BYD's success in the electric vehicle market, crediting visionary leadership and iterative learning cycles. He stresses the importance of adaptable strategies and market-driven value propositions over rigid forecasts.

[00:14:25] Fostering Innovation: Larry and Jan discuss the necessity for the automotive industry to break free from past constraints and embrace innovation without fear of failure. Larry stresses leadership commitment to innovation and empowerment for fostering innovation.

[00:24:59] Leadership Traits: Larry discusses integrative thinking and the importance of empathy, teamwork, and setting the proper examples in behavior for effective leadership.

[00:29:26] Work-Life Balance: Larry shares personal experiences and advice on maintaining a work-life balance and prioritizing family time and integrity amidst career demands.

[00:36:21] Larry on Reimagining Mobility: Larry advises leaders to anticipate the impact of technology on their businesses, consider how technology is altering the reasons for travel, and identify the opportunities for value creation in this evolving landscape.

Top Quotes:

[00:12:37] Larry: “I think electrically driven vehicles are inevitable because Einstein taught us that the best design is the simplest one that works.  And these are very simple products once you get the supply chain and everything right. So, if that's an inevitability, you got to get in front of it, but you don't do that by betting the farm. You've got to do that by learning.

[00:24:28] Larry: “Everybody around the world has the same motivations that Americans have. They want to improve their lives for their kids, their families, and future generations. And they want to have a chance to realize their full potential as an individual. That's not unique to the United States. So, we've got to look at these challenges globally, and what's going on right now outside the US with these technologies is something that we really have to pay attention to.”

[00:25:58] Larry: “Really great CEOs have an integrative mind.  They connect the dots. They're not willing to accept the least bad of a set of bad options. They keep working for a better solution.”

[00:33:05] Larry: “The world's going to throw you curveballs. You have to be resilient. You have to bounce back from those. And you got to find time to have fun. You have to communicate with your family. But if you're in a big job in a big industry, you've got to make that a way of life and do that jointly with the people who are near and dear to you and understand that.”

[00:38:26] Larry: “I think the industry transformation will be even more profound than anyone could imagine, from simply switching from combustion to electric and human driving to autonomous driving. I think the big, most strategically important question for communications, information, transportation, and entertainment companies is: how will this come together and shape the way people live in the future?”

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