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7 Questions with Ian Thompson
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7 Questions with Ian Thompson
Name: Ian Thompson
Current title: Chief Technical Officer
Current organisation: H2X
Automotive executive with 35 years of experience in the industry. I have worked in all 3 continents and for both OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. My major areas of expertise are vehicle development, taking from concept through to production. The last few years have been in the new energy vehicle sector including BEV and FCEV vehicle development.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging part of working in the Automotive Industry is the pace of change in technology. Currently it is a very chaotic time in the industry with the decline of the ICE powertrain and the movement towards more sustainable transportation forms like Electric and Hydrogen powered vehicles.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
It has taken a long time with a lot of hard work and persistence. I was the only one in my whole family who went into engineering but it had been my passion since a young child. I was lucky to get the chance to work on some amazing vehicles and in many different countries and cultures. The combination of different countries, cultures and technologies enabled me to expand my knowledge and expertise and provide an open outlook. I have built many teams in my time, all have been very high performing and I still keep in contact with many I have worked with. Working in different cultures, countries and companies has enabled me to integrate well at every level and adapt my style of management to best suit. I strongly believe in enabling people and I focus on a more mentoring style and helping my teams to achieve their goals in alignment with the companies.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
It would be nice to say that i plan out my days clearly and follow those plans through, however reality is rarely that simple. The Automotive industry runs on chaos theory, there is always something that will not go as planned. I structure my days with the planned meetings and of course the "To do" list however I accept that change will happen so always keep an open mind. I am very adept at new challenges coming in and being able to incorporate them into the bigger picture plan. I also pick my teams with a good mix of capabilities, some which are able to be flexible and some which are excellent at focusing on tasks, this enables my team to be adaptable. As for going to sleep I am able to shut off and can get by with just a few hours sleep and still function. When the opportunity arises I always make that time up.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Patience and letting go what you cannot control. In my early years as a young engineer I would regularly get frustrated when a project was cancelled or delayed because you get so involved in what you are doing. However over time you realize there is always a bigger picture and with that understanding at the senior levels it helps. For example the last few years I have been involved in start up companies where everything is fast paced except for the funding part and that can be frustrating.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
That's an interesting question. Managing Innovation, Integrating Technological, Market and Organizational Change by Joe Tidd and John Bessant. This has been some years back now and I read it during my Masters Degree. This was very eye opening to how different companies became successful and others not by adapting their company structure to support Innovation. I know many people read books on empowerment and management techniques etc but I have found none of these to really be inspirational. I strongly believe in learning for yourself and being yourself, not what worked for someone else.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
For me it's not the size of the leadership capacity its more the effectiveness of the leadership capability. Building huge empirical management structures is not effective at all, in fact it becomes quite the opposite. Flatter structures where the leader enables his team members to make and take decisions has much more effectiveness. For me i always empower my team members to take lead and make decisions, it is the best way to learn. Yes people will make mistakes, they key part is ensuring they learn from it and not be punished. If you can enable and empower people then your leadership capacity will grow along with it.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I think the most meaningful has come out from this current pandemic issue we are facing. The moral of the story being that there is no way to plan for everything, there will always be that case that knocks you back, the important part is how you get up. Before all this happened I was working out in China, with a new start up company creating high end luxury hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The program was going well, we had a successful launch at the Shanghai Motor Show, show cars and development cars already running, all looked good. Then came two things, the first being understandable for a startup, funding slowed down, due to a financial impact in the city. The next was cases of a new flu type disease growing and scary stories of people collapsing in the streets. The city we were working in was Wuhan until the end of 2019 a largely unknown city on the world scale. What followed was a total break down and most is well known now. For me it ended in an emergency flight back to the USA and the end of working on that project. However from the flames of that disaster we started our own company and have adapted to the new remote working ways.