Once upon a time, I was in graduate school at the University of Alabama. When I told my adviser, “I do not want to pursue a PhD, and instead graduate with a Masters,” he removed my assistantship. I needed a job to survive. When I was looking at the University job posting, I saw a job for a chauffeur. The job required me to drive an old couple, 86-year-old Joyce and Philip, to doctor appointments and grocery stores.
Joyce could not walk so was relegated to a wheelchair. Joyce had spent considerable amount of time in Brazil. Because of her multicultural background, it was easy for me to connect with her. In her hay days Joyce was a race car driver. I was a new kid on the block who had just learned how to drive a stick. Not only did Joyce share with me the nuances of driving, but she also gave me the biggest lesson in life. How to approach the turns in life? Joyce suggested to slow down when I approach a turn and accelerate when I am halfway through. I applied this lesson when I started working for a battery company, A123 Systems.
A123 systems was making lithium ion batteries. I had no background in lithium ion batteries. Everything was a new territory for me. I had to approach things slowly. Will, my boss, gave me a chance to work on the battery development project for BMW. Will gave me freedom to work on every aspect of the project.
Lucien was working on the project for last 1.5 years. Working with Lucien gave me the chance not only to connect with Lucien, but also to build a connection and partnership. Lucien helped me understand the things that were working and the things that were not working. Since the project was not going anywhere, it was canned after six months. Because of the slow approach, I was able to grasp the intricacies of the project.
Another similar project to develop a battery for Mercedes came along. I told Will I want to lead this project and deliver the product in 6 months. I was ready to accelerate. The project involved three parts: working with seniors like Lucien, making tough decisions, and motivating the team as we wanted to deliver the product at the end. Lucien was an expert at mechanical design, so I trusted his decisions.
In the second part, I had the vision of how the project should go as it required innovation. I had to take a calculated risk of using new suppliers that can help us to develop the unique product. I also outsourced somethings we did not have the expertise with.
Finally, we were in a time crunch. So, working closely with the team and motivating them so that we can deliver the product was a challenge and exciting part. I made sure that we all synchronized like an orchestra.
Finally, we were able to develop a battery for Mercedes within 6 months due to the contribution of the cross functional teams which was never done before. It only happened because of the learnings I had from the previous experience.
How about you? What are the different things you have learnt from the experience?
Looking forward to hearing your stories in our next meeting on December 23rd at 7 pm. Our meeting theme is Learning from Experience. Details can be found below:
Written by Abhijeet Joshi