Leadership Spotlight: Q&A with Krishan Kohli, Continental India

Krishan Kohli is Head of Business Unit Vehicle Dynamics Continental, India. In that capacity, he’s responsible for producing ESC and ABS in India. The BRAKE Report profiled this rapidly growing business segment in December.

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

KK: As head of business unit vehicle dynamic (VED), my key role is to steer the company’s growth goals and long-term strategy of Vision Zero in the region. As a technology company, we have an array of innovative safety technologies, and we are in a good position to capitalize on the growth opportunities currently present in the market. It’s my responsibility to oversee the day-to-day business operations and drive the overall business strategy and performance of VED in India.

My responsibilities include strategic planning, product development, sales and marketing, P&L responsibility, and manufacturing. VED in India has an R&D center in Bangalore and manufacturing operations in Gurgaon and Bangalore, where we produce Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control systems (ESC) for both India and regional markets.

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

KK: The last few years have witnessed markets undergoing major changes both at global and regional levels with newer requirements / demands emerging from customers and end users. This has resulted in an increasing need for agility in running the businesses and hence the need for a strong and dynamic leadership.

My basic style leans towards democratic and collaborative leadership, however I have been switching to other leadership styles too depending on the need. In current times to maximize output one needs to practice team empowerment and effective delegation, driving motivation and innovation.

Apart from integrity and trust, a few other aspects important to me are passion, drive, accountability, and sound decision making. Over all, I believe in having a strong management ecosystem with an open and effective communication process that invites large team engagement, irrespective of roles and responsibilities.

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

KK: Currently the automotive industry is going through a big transformation phase which brings in many challenges. The four megatrends in global automotive markets (connectivity, electrification, autonomous driving, and shared mobility) have significant influence on our business. In fact, technology companies like Continental drive these trends. Preparing and managing change effectively is the biggest challenge for most players in the automotive market.   

When I come to the topic of safety, there is an increasing focus on safety driven by governments, initiatives like the Global NCAP and supported by both OEMs and technology providers. Vehicle safety enforcement is getting the much-needed attention in India, the fourth largest car market in the world. The Indian government has devised stringent crash test norms to reduce road fatalities. The Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP) is a proposed New Car Assessment Program for India driven by law, which will enhance the occupant safety. Combined with this there is a growing awareness among consumers about safety technologies.

We are moving in the right direction and are positive that we will see increased adoption; however the challenge lies in supporting the demand with the right pace. Equipping vehicles with safe technologies will surely have a cost implication in the preliminary stages. At Continental, we are working on technologies to meet the current market demand and equipped for upgrade to higher technology needs for the future.

TBR: What do you look for when evaluating and adding top personnel?

KK: To build a winning team it’s important to pick the right people who complement and build upon the strength of the team.

Adding top personal is not easy. More than experience and right fit, it’s important to get the right person on board. Apart from profile fit, I look for passionate individuals with sound decision making skills. Other important aspects are leadership competencies (Continental’s capability model – the Big 6) on which candidates need to be evaluated. At Continental we have programs that grooms leadership skills for developing “home-grown leaders.” This goes a long way in developing a leadership style that is also completely aligned to our core values.   

TBR: What was your first job in the automotive industry?

KK: After completing my graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, I joined Tata Motors as a Production Engineer. Tata Motors Limited is a key automobile OEM in India.

TBR: What is your favorite thing about working in the brake industry?

KK: The brake industry is constantly evolving, safety technologies are becoming mandatory, and stringent norms are making safety and quality prime factors. At Continental, we envision to create a world of mobility with zero crashes, zero fatalities, and zero injuries. Our momentum to achieve Vision Zero is something that keeps me pushing to innovate more and harbor better strategies adding value to Continental and the industry.

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

KK: During the early part of my sales days, one of my managers said, “You should act like a sponge – absorb everything you come across and filter / retain what makes sense.” I have followed this principle, which helps keeping my learning cycle on.

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

KK: My favorite read from recent times is Good to Great by Jim Collins. This book talks about what differentiates the great companies from the good companies.

TBR: What is your favorite quote and why?

KK: One quote that has been motivating me for years is,

“Dream is not what you see while sleeping, it is something that doesn’t let you sleep,” APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India.

His contribution to science and society has been enormous and will live beyond several chapters of time. I draw inspiration from his words of wisdom.

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

KK: The global economies and consumer behavior are changing phenomenally, giving rise to disruptive automotive trends: electrification, connectivity, autonomous driving, and shared mobility. The automotive industry is preparing for the vehicle of future and enhancing the end user’s experience. IoT has led the path of mobility advancements, additionally, vehicle-to-everything technology is offering smart traffic solutions, parking management, and several other mobility solutions.

India, the fourth largest auto industry in the world, has recorded an impressive growth of 17.95 percent at the beginning of the financial year 2018-19 as compared to April 2017-18. This in turn has enhanced the automotive industry. The awareness for safety technologies is increasing in India, and with new safety legislation, India is emerging as a focus market for airbags, anti-lock brake systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC). With the progression of emission standards, OEMs need to overcome technology challenges to accommodate the latest emission norms.

Continental will continue to stay committed to our long-term strategy globally towards Vision Zero. In India we will continue to grow with the market and continue to invest in technologies meeting the market requirements.

TBR: Tell us a something that most people might not know about you or your organization.

KK: Coming from a small town, I was a very shy boy during my childhood days. However, early on I dreamt of becoming successful in life. Made my goals clear and worked hard with full determination towards achieving my dream. Looking back I’m proud to be where I am today.

About my organization, VED within Continental India, the BU started production just two years back. In 2016, Continental set up a line for localization of ABS assembly, besides ESC systems, and in 2018 additional lines in Bangalore and Gurgaon. As a relatively young organization, it’s a matter of pride for me that our business has been growing at a real good pace, and last year we celebrated one million units of electronic brake system (EBS) from Gurgaon.

TBR: What are some ways you relax away from the office?

KK: With the current pace of life and the increasing challenges the market brings forth, it’s important to focus on work-life balance.

I spend quality time with my family / friends. Over the weekends I like to watch comedy shows, engage in reading and running (am a marathon runner).

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