In the eMove360° Women in Tech series, we present inspiring women who have successfully gained a foothold in the automotive industry. After Clotilde Delbros, CEO Mobilize, Fredrika Klarén, Head of Sustainability at Polestar as well as Marta Almuni, Cupra Technical Director, we would like to introduce Silja Pieh, Head of Corporate Strategy AUDI AG in this issue.
Sabine Metzger spoke with her for the current eMove360° magazine in german language (download PDF).
You already worked for Audi from 2012 to 2017. Why did you decide to come back? What is your motivation?
Silja Pieh: I have always felt very comfortable at Audi and the company suits me. The task of developing a new strategy for Audi as Head of Strategy together with a new Board of Management team and now implementing it is extremely exciting and a unique opportunity. What motivated me most was being able to give the company clarity and orientation.
What is the best thing about your job? What do you love about your work?
Pieh: We now have the chance to make the automotive industry fit for the future as a key industry and job engine, especially in Germany. And our industry will only be fit for the future if its business model is sustainable. At the same time, we want to give people the freedom of individual mobility even in times of climate change – with sustainable, technical innovations such as e-mobility. So it’s all about the big picture: the future of the automotive industry and the future of mobility.
You are considered the architect of a new Audi strategy. Can you briefly explain it to us?
Pieh: With “Vorsprung 2030”, Audi has a clear roadmap for the transformation into a provider of sustainable individual mobility. One of the key points is the complete switch to electric mobility. From 2026 onwards, we will only be launching pure e-models on the global market. In addition, we are specifically addressing the topic of digitalisation in our strategy and we are creating an ecosystem around electric and highly automated driving. Across the board, we have anchored ambitious and transparent ESG criteria, i.e. in the areas of environment, social and governance. This means that responsibility towards the environment and society as well as sustainable business play an important role in all decisions.
How exactly can you imagine the work of a chief strategist?
Pieh: It’s about using analyses to anticipate the future and identify how the company will continue to earn money in the long term. To do this, we looked at key future trends in tomorrow’s mobility and used them to define growth opportunities for Audi along the entire value chain. It was particularly important to me that we develop our strategy in-house and use the expertise of our employees, especially the strategy team. Teams with more than 500 colleagues from different markets and all hierarchical levels were involved in the strategy process. In this way, we have created a strong understanding of our common path within the company. This now helps us in the implementation.
How important are clear goals and statements (end of the combustion engine)?
Pieh: In my eyes, clarity is the most important thing. That is the prerequisite for everyone to be able to apply their energies in the right place. With our early and clear commitment to 100 per cent e-mobility, we now have enough time to implement the transformation in a targeted manner and to take our employees along with us on this journey. We have also created planning security for our suppliers and partners. And it is also a strong signal to politicians to create the necessary framework conditions, such as the charging infrastructure.
The pandemic and the war in Ukraine are currently showing us how unpredictable the future is. In times like these, is it even possible to develop a strategy that will last in the long term?
Pieh: It is true that we are currently confronted with many unexpected events. But not all developments are always uncertain. We can assess many of them in advance. Digitalisation and electromobility are and will remain the central topics. At the same time, corporate strategies should allow for flexibility. Because external framework conditions, such as regulatory requirements, are changing ever faster. At the same time, innovation, market and product cycles are generally becoming shorter and shorter.
In an interview you say “We are facing a new era.” What exactly do you mean by that and where do you see the biggest challenges?
Pieh: Much more than e-mobility, digitalisation will change driving. The more automated driving functions relieve people of driving, the more they can use the time in the car differently – for relaxing, working or entertainment. In addition, interconnected car fleets facilitate traffic flow, increase road safety and significantly reduce emissions. In rural areas, connected and autonomous vehicles can also give people who cannot drive a car themselves more individual freedom and social participation. Overall, digitalisation will make mobility more comfortable, safer, more efficient and more sustainable.
What role does the topic of diversity play for you – as a woman in an industry that is still dominated by men?
Pieh: I believe that the topic of diversity is not only reflected in equal opportunities for men and women, but above all in the acceptance of “diverse” ways of seeing and thinking. As a company, we have to manage to see “being different” as an added value and not as a “disturbance” of the known. This applies to the male-female ratio, the proportion of international colleagues or different experience and study backgrounds. The transformation towards digitalisation in particular requires us to completely rethink our development processes, approaches and speed. As a company, we still have a long way to go. In terms of equal opportunities, we – like other industries – have certainly not yet reached our goal. But companies like Audi have recognised that diversity is not a nice-to-have, but a key success factor. That’s why we actively set ourselves goals to achieve more diversity step by step. Because we’ve learned this by now: without concrete goals, it won’t work.
Where do you get strength and inspiration for your work?
Pieh: I enjoy my work, especially with my team. It gives me back a lot of energy. But in order not to become “business-blind”, I regularly do things that have nothing to do with cars. I consider deliberate breaks from sport and completely switching off on holidays or weekends to be enormously important for staying productive.
What is your motto in life?
Pieh: Don’t talk – do.