Wednesday, February 21

Leadership Spotlight: Q&A with Rick Kaatz

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Rick Kaatz is General Manager of North American Operations for KBAutosys. Founded in 1985 and headquartered in South Korea, KBAutosys is a global manufacturer of brake pads and linings for the automotive industry. In the following Q&A, Rick shares with us his valuable insights on the topics of leadership and success.

TBR: What is your current role and area of responsibility?

RK: After retiring from a long and rewarding career with GM, I recently joined KBAutosys to help establish their engineering presence in North America. Our plan is to establish a tech center in the Detroit area that will include testing as well as parts preparation and inspection capabilities to better serve the NA customer base.

TBR: How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked so well for you?

RK: The success of any organization comes down to the people and the culture. I like to focus on the voice of the customer and develop sound engineering strategies around that theme. I like to work with others that have strong technical capabilities and interpersonal skills, are self-driven and visionary, and have the same desire to engineer for the customer.

TBR: What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?

RK: Evolution of brake technology has historically been pretty slow in my opinion. There are many new technologies and customer voices like electrification, autonomous braking features, enhanced vehicle control systems, e-boost, and environmental awareness. These new challenges will impact and accelerate the rate of change in our industry.

TBR: What was your first job in Industry?

RK: During High School and college, I worked for a company that tested and balanced ventilation systems in commercial buildings. Although this had nothing to do with the auto industry or with brakes, this job was my first exposure to a system’s engineering approach. Massive specifications and blueprints for the building were drafted to meet the needs of the occupants. Those were boiled down into systems and requirements that each contractor needed to deliver on. Testing was used to validate that requirements were met. This experience laid a great foundation for establishing customer based requirements and accurate test methods to develop and validate brake systems and components.

TBR: What is the best career advice you have been given?

RK: This is a tough one, I don’t think I have one best career advice. I’ve been fortunate to work for several great mentors over the years. Some of the things they taught me include:

    • Mistakes happen and are to be learned from
    • Try not to repeat the same mistake (one and done)
    • If you haven’t made any waves you haven’t launched your boat
    • Dreams are necessary but not sufficient, goals with action plans are needed
    • Seek fulfillment not happiness, fulfillment leads to happiness
    • Pursue your passions and work will be fun
    • Work hard …. and play hard
    • Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses
    • The best paying jobs are the ones you do for free.

TBR: Name your favorite / recent book(s) you have read:

RK: I like to read and my ‘to be read’ shelf is growing faster than my ‘done reading’ shelf. Favorites in the ‘done reading’ shelf include:

A book I’m reading now, ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ written by Steven Pinker is fascinating. Pinker’s extensive research shows that violence across the globe is declining. There are many reasons for this that are explained, with data, and we are on a great trajectory. From a violence perspective, we are living in the best of times and the future is even brighter. It’s a big and complex book (over 700 pages long), but well worth the read as well as having on the shelf for future reference. As an engineer, the data based approach is refreshing.

TBR: How do you see the industry evolving over the next 5-10 years and do you have any bold predictions for us?

RK: Making predictions is not my strength. I think it’s fair to assume the use of friction brakes during dynamic braking conditions will decline. We’re just seeing the start of this trend with regen braking on hybrid and electric vehicles. Concerns with vehicle emissions will put on even more pressure. I’m not sure what technologies will win, but I expect to see much less dependence on friction brakes on future vehicle designs.