And one needs to look no further for corroboration than the partnership between Modis and the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team. The Official Engineering Partner teams have geared up their joint objective of engineering a smarter future together. To learn more about how the collaboration between Modis and the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team approaches talent and leadership to achieve a smart, sustainable tomorrow, while never losing sight of the ultimate goal – winning – Frost & Sullivan’s Sarwant Singh, Managing Partner and Regional Leader for the Middle East and South Asia, spoke with Jan Gupta, President of Modis, one of three Global Business Units of the Adecco Group, and Ian James, Team Principal of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team.
Sarwant Singh (SS): What was the background to this partnership with Modis and what do you see coming out of it?
Ian James (IJ): I can sum it up in one word: “partnership.” With Modis, we are not looking for a typical sports team partner sponsorship but for someone who can add value to what we’re doing. Hopefully, that value goes in both directions. Our partnership with Modis gives us access to an incredible global talent pool. Modis is joining us in our journey of transition, where we are reshaping our organization to be future-proof. Partnering with them gives us the expertise that we haven’t traditionally had in the past, such as AI, for example. And through this, we will be able to strengthen our team for the future.
SS: What attracts you to this partnership?
Jan Gupta (JG): We started our first ‘races’ in Formula E three or four years ago when we partnered with the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. Sustainability has always been a key theme for us. This time, we were clear that we wanted to partner not just with the Formula E Championship but with a racing team as well. Formula E combines cutting-edge technology both on the engineering as well as IT side. It is a sport where the team must work together with the firm joint objective of winning each race. Modis has some 30,000 IT and digital engineering specialists working on cutting-edge new technologies across the globe and a culture epitomized by the “will to win”. This partnership reflects our passion for technology and talent.
SS: What are the key services or competencies that you bring to this partnership? Our research indicates that “Engineering a Smarter Future Together” will be based on tech consulting and tech talent services. Can you expand on this?
JG: We have three business lines altogether. We have started one with the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team and are moving towards more collaboration. Firstly, we can deliver cutting-edge tech talent services, whether on a temporary, permanent, or freelance basis. Second, if there is a tech challenge that needs resolving for which a company doesn’t have the right staff on board, we can provide our experts from around the globe. We are currently in talks with the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team to explore how to optimize their race cars with data analytics and AI technology, so this is very exciting. The third service caters towards the automotive industry as a whole as well as other industries, in that we have tech academies where we up-skill and re-skill people for future technologies and capabilities.
SS: It’s a big change where mechanical engineers are being retrained first into electrical engineers and then into chip designers or OS platform developers. What are your expectations from your engineering partner?
IJ: Formula E is almost like a microcosm of what’s going on in the automotive industry. We’ve made phenomenal progress from a mechanical engineering perspective in terms of achieving efficiencies in the powertrain of more than 95%. This means that we will see diminishing returns if we continue focusing on those areas in the future. Therefore, our focus will switch to software and data analysis. Here’s where the partnership works very well because not only does it bring in expertise that reinforces our existing competencies in motorsport but it also allows us to grow that knowledge base much faster than would have been possible without this partnership. Hopefully, we can adapt quickly, learn together with this partnership, and then transfer those learnings back into the automotive industry.
SS: Jan, you mentioned sustainability briefly. What are the overall capabilities and learnings that you are gaining from the track and how can these be transferred to other domains?
JG: Formula E represents a part of a carbon-free world with an exciting future ahead. This is key for the next generation – they are increasingly looking for employers focusing on sustainability. Formula E is a very good example of how sustainability and technology can be combined in an attractive sport. Through this partnership, we will work to optimize the car on the track and the findings will then be passed onto the industry, resulting in more efficient cars on our roads in the future. We are proud of contributing to that.
SS: I drive an electric car. It goes from 0-60 in 3 seconds and on top of that, it is sustainable….
IJ: Who says sustainability can’t be fun? However, it’s important that sustainability not be seen just like a box-ticking exercise – setting goals that we strive to achieve. We recently received the FIA 3-Star Environmental Accreditation for sustainability, which is great for a start-up but doesn’t mean anything if we don’t follow up. So we’ve set out 12 very specific goals for the next 12 months that we will be looking to achieve. Again, sustainability is also an engineering challenge and that’s what makes it so attractive for new talent. We shouldn’t just use it as a buzzword but as part and parcel of all ongoing training and development activities.
SS: How has Covid-19 impacted Formula E and, in particular, HR solutions? Any mitigation strategies or learnings from it?
IJ: Formula E was impacted the same way as everyone with the caveat that at the beginning of the pandemic it became very apparent that as a sport, entertainment, and communications platform, it had its place in the world and other things have higher priority. When COVID hit, we decided to repurpose everything and our engineers focused on the development of respiratory machines. But on the other hand, the pandemic allowed us to look at how we work. I believe that some of the efficiencies we have gained during this period will carry forward into the future as well. The other thing it has enabled us to do is assess, from a personnel perspective, what we need to have as a core team and how we can then use the flexibility of working with a partner like Modis in terms of, for example, bringing in the expertise we need for a specific period. What we have been able to do is to bring in high-tech resources from Modis as and when necessary to help us through the accelerated process. So as long as we can take the learnings and efficiencies we have gained over the course of the pandemic and use it to our advantage, including the HR side of things, then I think it will hold us in good stead.
SS: Jan, anything to add especially in terms of your solutions?
JG: From a broader perspective, after this pandemic, we will not come back to ‘normal’; it will be the ‘new normal’. There are three elements here: first, the way of working will be different, it will be a hybrid model. We will have some offices but people will also be able to work from home. Also, it will no longer be a so-called ‘9 to 5 job’, but it will be driven by a person’s impact and results. Secondly, leaders will have to adapt because leading a virtual team is different from managing a team that sits in an office – there is a need for more emotional intelligence, collaboration, and creativity. COVID-19 has shown that mental health can become a serious issue when you work in isolation all day long. That’s why emotional intelligence is key. Here I believe, special training and coaching will become an important part going forward. Lastly, the pandemic has accelerated the demands for digitalization and skilling in digitalization. Skilling and upskilling will be crucial to prepare people for the post-COVID-19 world.
SS: You talked about digital. What is Modis’ roadmap for the future for digital? Is that the big emphasis of your value offering?
JG: At the end of the day, there are several engineering and IT companies focused on helpdesk and IT infrastructure but no real thought leader focused on smart industry or digital engineering. So that is the core of our brand and our focus. And, yes, of course, digital and digitalization need to be in the DNA of everyone at Modis.
SS: One of my observations of Formula racing is that it is young drivers and more experienced engineers. Is the audience very young for Formula E and does that mean – based on the next-generation vehicles and spectator profile – that you will be looking at some sort of youth talent development within the team?
IJ: One of the reasons Formula E is so attractive for participating organizations is that the fan base is so young. The average age of the fan base coming to the events is 34 years old, which for a sporting event that has 30-40,000 people attending, is incredibly young. We are seeing a great mix of families and motorsport fans, and now we are seeing genuine curiosity from people who’ve never been interested in motorsport before. For fans that are watching the event from afar, TV is still very important in many markets but it’s the engagement via social media and online platforms that has grown exponentially. This again shows that we need to take notice of changing trends and make sure we are providing something that will retain the interest of those groups as well.
In terms of the team itself, I think we benefit from our diversity, with young talent and more experienced engineers. Driving talent is easier to have when you’re younger, especially in terms of speed of reaction and that’s true for many sports. I think the differentiator with Formula E is the mental strength needed to understand the energy management strategy and work very closely with all the engineers. We are very lucky with having Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries, who despite being only in their mid-20s, are extremely sharp both mentally and physically. On the engineering side, we currently have an incredible cross-section within the team. But far more important than age, what I would say is that when we need to recruit, we tend to return to the same sources and that, for me, needs to change. Broadening our talent search is going to be a game-changer. By doing that we will strengthen the talent pool. Such diversity is part and parcel of the overall sustainability picture as well.
JG: When it comes to the smart world, data analytics and AI, for instance, the engineers tend to be specialists particularly from younger generations, from all over the world. So there’s a big shift from a traditional engineer to a digital engineer.
SS: Modis, in many ways, has spearheaded the ability to attract and nurture multi-disciplinary talent. Can you tell us a little about the learning and career path of these talents?
JG: Young people have a different way of thinking about their jobs. This new generation is a project generation; they want to tackle a project for two years, see the impact and then move onto something new. They must bring a good skill set and have the passion to make an impact. At Modis, we can support them in their careers and provide them with different opportunities. For instance, we are now looking to recruit a shadow for Ian to support him in his work with the Team. This new approach to a career may be difficult for traditional companies, but a company like Modis with 30,000 engineers or specialists has a huge range of available talent.
SS: How does talent enter your industry? And are you looking to broaden that access within your team?
IJ: Yes, it is about broadening the net to find talent. We are at the start of a journey of transition where the technical routes into motorsports and the automotive industry are still very much valid. But the industry itself and the skillsets it requires are changing and we need to be adaptable. First and foremost, we are looking for people who have a passion for whatever it is they do. We are also now starting to see the requirement for an entrepreneurial spirit. There’s still a need for people to be specialists in certain areas – we will never get away from that – but they also need to be adaptable, think outside their sphere and understand the connections between the people who can support them.
SS: What about your leadership skills? How is it different in a Formula E environment?
IJ: For me, it’s very easy; I am a jack of all trades and master of none. I was, perhaps, predestined for my current role as Team Principal! More seriously, entrepreneurial spirit and passion are necessary. Then there’s emotional intelligence, the understanding of what makes people tick, which will be crucial as individuals face up to new challenges, especially in this ‘new normal’. That is true as much for me in a start-up company as it is for much bigger organizations like Modis or Mercedes-Benz. The other thing is a ‘no blame’ culture, which is very important because if people fear consequences, if they make mistakes, then it will stifle their creativity. By the same token, when mistakes are made, we need to learn from them and not repeat them. All this needs to be done with a structure and an understanding of the bigger picture going forward.
JG: At the end of the day, there’s not much of a difference whether you are responsible for a racing team or an organization like Modis. As leaders, we all find our way, accept our weaknesses, and try to develop our emotional intelligence. If we want our team to succeed, then we have to be transparent and accept and learn from our mistakes. Companies will soon come to understand that their success is due to people and not technology. Tech and skillsets are a must, but in a remote world, we must trust each other and continue to challenge people, while also motivating and inspiring them.
SS: Are we at the crossroads of Formula E where it is both a bit of sport and a game? How does that equate to human resource management?
IJ: We were forced to stop racing at the beginning of the pandemic but then we got the esports racing platform up and running very quickly. That was a great way to keep the fan base engaged and interested. But it was also fascinating to look at how the younger generation interacted with it. My 12-year-old son, rather than watching the feed of the racing coming in, was following the race from the interaction of the other fans/ spectators. Again, that’s a shift that we need to understand and adapt towards. I think if we get the recipe right, then there’s an opportunity to merge the two worlds of sports and gaming.
From an HR perspective, it comes full circle to the point about keeping our eyes open to not only the traditional disciplines but being flexible enough to look at new disciplines and then making sure we are bringing both worlds together.
JG: The racing and gaming question is connected to the change in the mindset of the younger generation. They want to have an impact and find it boring to just watch sports on their screens. If we can combine the racing with the gaming element it could be a recipe for success. For example, Formula E established Fanboost, where audiences can interact and with the support of their favorite drivers, have an influence over the race, and this has the power to attract the new generation.
SS: What is your prediction for 2021 for Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team with Modis now backing you?
IJ: We are racers at heart, and so we are in the fight for that first Formula E World Championship. But of course, we are well aware of how big the challenge is and that’s why we have the partnership in place because we know and believe it is going to give us a competitive edge.
SS: And Modis will enable that, right?
JG: No pressure, but the Team Championship for the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team and Modis together in this new partnership is a must. And if Nyck or Stoffel wins, that will be the cherry on the cake!
For more insights on how the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team hopes to race to a podium finish with partner Modis, you can read the article on: Will The Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team Race To A Podium Finish With Its Tech Talent Transformation Strategy?