When Béatrice Schmidt took over as CEO at EFI Automotive in 2019 – and then as President the next year – she wanted to make sure she was doing so for the right reasons. Her great-grandfather founded the company in France 85 years ago, before passing it along to his son. Béatrice’s father then took the presidency 28 years ago.
As his eldest child, the role was ready and waiting for her. However, Béatrice wanted to be certain she was the right fit for the company, which manufacturers various car components, such as sensors and smart mechatronic modules for powertrains that help improve system efficiency.
“I asked myself, ‘Do I want to start at EFI Automotive or not?’ Being the daughter, or the firstborn, of my father, it’s always a question I had to ask,” she recalls. For a while, she found no answer, so she set about gaining experience in various other companies.
“I wanted to do this so I would have my own experience, to find out what I’m capable of and see different companies with different atmospheres and backgrounds – in France, but also internationally – so I could be sure that I added value to them,” Béatrice explains.
“And to show that it wasn’t just the daughter of the man who now owns the company taking over, but rather someone who has the skills, competency and willingness to drive the company forward sustainably.”
Six years ago, when she finally felt sure that she had what it takes, Béatrice joined EFI in Germany, where she studied and where her husband is from. That first role helped her understand the company and its spirit.
I think for a long time, the industry was focused on men, but there is a new way of managing now that is more collaborative and more inspiring than it used to be.
“I was there to make sure I could bring added value, but it was also important that I was free to stay or go – I wasn’t obliged by any person or any system driving me to do something that I didn’t, deep down, want to do,” she shares. Today, she has little doubt about her role at EFI, as she is leading the company through some of the biggest changes the auto industry has ever seen.
As the industry moves towards emission-free and diesel-free cars, there is also a huge shift underway towards improving the end-user experience for drivers. Innovation in vehicles is beginning to more closely resemble innovation in the tech industry.
Béatrice calls this change a “global revolution” in the automotive business – one that is completely upending the way people relate to their cars.
“A couple of years ago, a car was, let’s say, an engine with a lot of components around it in a designed shape driving from A to B. Now, it’s really a computer on four wheels, which can be changed depending on where you want to go and how you want to go there,” she explains.
This shift has made the business of designing cars more dynamic and requires synergy between mechanics, electronics and informatics. That, in turn, has changed the way EFI builds its products.
“We are in direct competition with IT players, and it completely moves the way the automotive industry is reacting. You have a V-cycle to develop products, which is very clear with processes that take time, and you can’t afford to make mistakes. You have to put a product on the road that is good from the beginning,” Béatrice asserts.
EFI has had to modify its processes and products, from engine parts and components to sustainable mobility systems, to create solutions that work for both traditional carmakers as well as new players like Tesla. One of the main drivers for the company has been the push towards developing zero-emission powertrain systems.
“There’s now no question about whether the car industry will invest in this kind of technology. It’s clearly happening step by step. We have to increase our added value internally, and taking all these trends as inputs, we are rethinking our business model to increase the added value we can offer to the mobility ecosystem,” she reveals.
EFI operates in a competitive market, where the major players include Continental, Bosch and Hella. But being smaller than the competition comes with its advantages, Béatrice explains.
“We are agile and very customer focused – and keen to understand our customers’ specific needs. With our global organisation, we are able to adapt to their needs and adapt our processes, products and services to really meet their specific requirements,” she says.
EFI is also brimming with highly sought-after technical know-how that is based on eight-and-a-half decades of serving the automotive industry.
“We gathered a lot of geeks in different fields, coming from ignition systems through to mechanics and electronics,” Béatrice reveals. “Now we also do software and safety processes, which are very high skilled.” These fields are traditionally male dominated, but EFI makes a point of breaking with tradition, Béatrice points out.
“Women are welcome in the industry,” she confirms. “I think for a long time, the industry was focused on men, but there is a new way of managing now that is more collaborative and more inspiring than it used to be.”
More women in leadership positions in the industry will add value by introducing different approaches and mindsets to the table, according to Béatrice. “Women have a rightful place and a lot of value to bring, and I would really encourage women at least to check to see if they can be happy working here. Don’t be afraid of entering the industry – of pulling at the door.”
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