Micah Shepard, CEO, Southeast Asia-Pacific, Schaeffler
President & Regional CEO of Schaeffler Asia
Diversity is often a word that, in the business context, carries a hollow promise. Many organisations are keen to promote their diversity yet only seem to pay lip-service.
That charge cannot be levelled at Schaeffler – the leading German mobility company with an annual revenue of nearly US$17 billion. The Schaeffler culture recognises and values diversity, and has it embedded in the company code – not because it looks good to the outside world but because it knows that different perspectives lead to better solutions and new ideas.
Micah Shepard is Regional CEO of Schaeffler Southeast Asia-Pacific and he celebrates the diversity in his 2,000-strong team across more than 10 countries in Southeast Asia.
“I 100% believe that having diverse teams makes the company stronger,” says Shepard.
“In the two management teams I manage, there are more than 12 nationalities. Most have lived in at least one other country, they come from many different education and religious backgrounds.”
Shepard describes a typical leadership meeting, where open discussion is encouraged to promote diversity of thought. The leadership team went through a self-assessment process to better understand each other's personality traits – thereby improving communication and interaction.
For example, people who are 'blue' colour focus more on data and analytics, a ‘red’ person wants to drive activity, ‘green’ wants to find harmony, and ‘yellow’ wants to keep people active.
“We need all colour personality types to form a winning team, and you can see this from our results,” says Shepard. “I have an excellent management team, and we believe in the philosophy 'don't be afraid to fail, and never give up’.”
Since Shepard took the reins six years ago, those results have been impressive – especially when set against the backdrop of the pandemic. Sales have increased 2X, making the business profitable. The company has been recognised as a Certified Great Place To Work in six locations. Plus, two new factories have been built and, Schaeffler recently acquired Indian B2B e-commerce platform Koovers.
In that time, the automotive industry has also undergone a transformation. Schaeffler increasingly finds itself producing powertrains for electric vehicles, exploring hydrogen technology, leveraging Industry 4.0, and developing the digital marketplace.
Sustainability is clearly central to the business, including a pledge to reach net zero by 2040. Many projects are underway to procure clean energy, develop green products and to use green materials.
“We also supply products in our industrial space for wind applications and hydrogen stacks,” says Shepard. “Once a year, we have a Green Makes A Difference day where we stop all operations and discuss ideas to improve our environment.”
Of course, there are challenges, and any CEO worth their salt has to overcome those to succeed. Shepard describes his own path to the top job as non-linear, working his way up through the ranks – a route that he believes makes him better equipped to understand and deal with these challenges.
“I believe there is no one way to become a CEO, as it depends on experience, your network, and sometimes being in the right place at the right time,” he says.
“I always dreamed of becoming a CEO, and I took a non-traditional route, working through many functions before entering sales. I often took the less sexy projects, which were tough to complete. This has helped me to understand the total business and how to lead different areas of expertise.”
Talking of diversity and being in the right place at the right time, the African-American working for the Germany company in Asia says these are two of the main reasons why he loves his job.
“I enjoy learning about cultures, understanding history, the different foods, politics, and connecting with people,” says Shepard. “I have been so blessed to be able to travel for work in more than 40 countries. While I'm the only African-American executive in senior leadership, I have always been treated with respect based on my years of delivering results and, again, my ability to connect with others.
“So, diversity is who I am, and I will always lead teams with diverse backgrounds, as this is what our customers and stakeholders represent. That said, although I can be like a chameleon and adapt, I'm still very grounded in my own principles and know who I am.”
Shepard says Southeast Asia is one of the best places to be right now from a business perspective. Due to global trade conflicts, many businesses have relocated operations to SEA countries as a part of their diversification strategy. Foreign Direct investment (FDI) is rising, especially in countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
“The GDP growth for many of these markets is over 5%, there is a young, educated workforce, and our regional aim is to have double digital growth,” says Shepard.
The best-laid plans of many CEOs and indeed companies went out of the window when the pandemic hit and they failed with their digital transformations. Not so Schaeffler and Shepard – who have been keen to take advantage of the opportunities.
There is the acquisition of the Koovers B2B e-commerce aftermarket business which will see manufacturing control retail business using AI to predict ordering patterns and customer needs. There is also a Metaverse repair solution guide in the works for mechanics.
“From a product perspective, our new EV products have much more electronics and sophisticated software to power the future of mobility, including autonomous driving capabilities,” adds Shepard.
“In my Vietnam plant, we call it the plant of the future with the use of cobots, in the digital room we can see the uptime of the production and critical areas.
“With all of these changes, a traditional mechanical business like Schaeffler is employing more digital experts and electronics engineers than we have done in the past.”
Ultimately, it’s all about people, and Shepard is passionate about his duty as CEO to extract the very best from his team. As he states, good leaders find in people what people do not know they possess.
“Leaders recognise the talent in their team and then push to unlock the talent,” says Shepard. “When I work, I work to achieve my goals, but I also work to unlock my team's skills. I know everyone I work with has huge potential – for me, my success is also about the success of others, growing and nurturing their talent; that is the foundation of our growth at Schaeffler.
“This focus on talent, teams, and personal transformation is why I insist on creating institutions, cultures, and pathways where human capital can thrive.”
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