We are inventing jobs we didn’t even know we needed a couple of years ago: Brian McMurray, General Motors

Last year, General Motors decided to stop selling cars in India. For a company that initiated its India operations in 1928, it must have been a tough business decision to make. However, the Company continues with its commitment to service, exports and technology in the country. HRKatha spoke to Brian McMurray, vice-president, engineering and operations, General Motors India. McMurray, a seasoned hand at GM moved to India in 2014 as director, vehicle integration. He currently heads engineering and operations at the General Motors Technical Centre or GMTC-I in Bengaluru. McMurray spoke extensively on GM’s commitment to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiative globally and how in India, the Company is promoting young engineers through it taking pride in the talent it finds in the country. He also elaborated on how diversity and inclusion is at the heart of the GM work culture and how he believes AI will only create different job opportunities and roles rather than eradicate jobs. Excerpts from the conversation:

0
24092

What do you think are the broad challenges before the auto industry?

The auto industry right now is going through the biggest changes in its history. Consumers and consumer attitude are changing rapidly.

The second challenge is the environment —basically, energy and energy conservation— and trying to move away from internal combustion engines to electrification or hybrids or down the road eventually, fuel cell technology. There is a huge push to get the auto industry moving towards electrification.

The third thing we also want to capitalise on is technology. That will enable the auto industry to ensure sustainability, from now and into the future. When you look at how quickly technology is evolving right now, the way our customers are using technology and the expectations of the biggest social groups, governments, and countries, if you want to be relevant five years from now, embracing technology and basically trying to come up with that next big technical move is going to make mobility more effective for customers and society.

From a GM perspective, we are talking about zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestions. It is the foundation of what the Company is doing. We are doing it to move humanity forward and be a socially responsible organisation. As a company, we are responsible towards the environment and the people around us. We are listening to customer needs rather than just putting a product out there we think they are going to buy.

What is interesting about this from the HR perspective is, if you don’t know what the future role is that you want, and you try and hire based on something you don’t know about, using the standard matrix, you will be unsuccessful.

And India continues to be significant in General Motors’ scheme of things?

India is always a topic of discussion for General Motors. What we do here is extremely valuable both from business and technology perspectives. The engineering centre is not even an extension of General Motors. It is General Motors! It is upfront engineering being done.

This is why we continue to focus on the engineering talent. We are getting a lot of good people because they recognise the fact that we are technology leaders here. Global engineering is our primary focus.

Most of the work that we do here (GMTC-I) is aimed at global programmes and developing technology for them. This is one thing that has certainly helped us— the fact that people understand that while we don’t sell cars in India anymore, we still engineer cars here for the world. It has been very important for us to continue to retain and attract talent here at the tech centre.

Tell us about GM’s commitment to STEM.

STEM continues to be an important initiative. It is the grounding for education and the sciences, maths, engineering and so on of technology. We want to promote these areas because the society sees you doing exactly what moves it and the country forward. When you educate people about innovation and future technology and they understand the science and the theory behind it, then it becomes a strong, worthwhile programme.

General Motors is a huge advocate of STEM because we feel it is a highly valuable element bringing students along through schools and universities. If you start early, get people interested and make them understand why it is an important element of schooling, then you get to help them become great scientists, engineers and mathematicians. When you see a solid foundation of those professions in a country then it is going to help you sustain all the challenges that are coming at you between now and the future, for all industries and not just auto.

We encourage students to not just study theory but understand the practicality of it. There is no dearth of talent in India. As I look at the people we interview and hire, we see highly educated people with very high levels of academic achievement.

What are your thoughts on the engineering talent you see in India?

As a part of our CSR activities, we go to a lot of schools and universities. Through our initiatives that are subsets of STEM, at a very early age, we encourage young people to become ‘Little Scientists’. We get them to experiment and be curious.

We encourage students to not just study theory but understand the practicality of it. There is no dearth of talent in India. As I look at the people we interview and hire, we see highly educated people with very high levels of academic achievement. There are some very good universities in India. The IITs are highly regarded within and outside the country and so are the students who are passing out from them.

We support internships lasting three to 12 months. When you get students who are highly educated, they are driven and want to succeed. They really want to prove themselves, to differentiate themselves in an industry where there is so much competition. If you have an internship under your belt and have worked for a local company or an MNC, it will absolutely ground you in what to expect ahead.

Sometimes students coming from universities aren’t always aware of the industry’s expectations. Internships prepare them for the industry. It also means that they are thinking a little more entrepreneurial. It is one of the things I like about India and the talent I see here. There is a lot of entrepreneurial spirit. There is inquisitiveness, fascination with innovation and that is going to be a huge differentiator for India going forward. If the country capitalises on it and we continue to harness it as a company, then India will certainly show its engineering and scientific force in the future.

STEM continues to be an important initiative. It is the grounding for education and the sciences, maths, engineering and so on of technology. We want to promote these areas because the society sees you doing exactly what moves it and the country forward.

So, GM is willing to bet on fresh talent. How do you place freshers over experienced hands?

You touched upon one of the areas I am very passionate about. The industry and technology are moving at a frightening pace. People who have knowledge are starting to lose ground because what is relevant today will not be tomorrow. People who have stopped learning or do not consider learning now or in the future to be important are going to struggle. When we are hiring, technical expertise is the price of entry. That’s a given. What separates the people who have technical interests and technical experience versus the ones who get hired by GM is that they fit the character expectations of the Company; they fit the culture. We are not looking for the smartest people in the world. We want people who want to work in teams and want to contribute collectively to make the Company strong. For that you need people who have a very diverse way of thinking.

If you want to work for GM and you have a genuine interest in the Company, then I will look at you over and above someone else who has maybe a decade’s experience. When people have the right culture, character and emotion, they will work their souls to the bone and come up with great new technologies and initiatives.

We take inclusion to a new level. I am not saying we are world-class. We are not. We are learning and adapting, but the difference is that we are doing it willingly. The benefits are already paying off for our business.

Diversity is also something that is crucial to the Company?

It is very important for us to have a large gender diversity built within the organisation. This is something we continue to work on, to bring women into the workforce. We continue to hire a lot of women engineers.

We spend a lot of time working on the ‘Take 2’ programme. The initiative brings working moms back in, helps structure the business to facilitate them as new moms, and reskills them. We are also very consciously aware of their home environments and help them with it. For example, we have built a toddler area where mothers can bring babies during the day so they can be taken care of. It is staffed with professionals—nurses and a matron.

We are also looking at hiring people with disabilities. We want to be seen as a responsible company where it doesn’t matter if you are physically disabled; we want to make sure that we are fair and receptive to everyone, playing to their strengths and not letting our biases guide us on why we shouldn’t hire people.

We are not looking for the smartest people in the world. We want people who want to work in teams and want to contribute collectively to make the Company strong. For that you need people who have a very diverse way of thinking.

It means we may hire from areas that aren’t necessarily the typical ones many companies may look at. Engineers that come out of some of the women’s universities are great talents for us to look at. We don’t just do it for the sake of it but because it is the right thing to do.

We take inclusion to a new level. I am not saying we are world-class. We are not. We are learning and adapting, but the difference is that we are doing it willingly. The benefits are already paying off for our business.

Let’s get people ready to understand the industry. Let’s not kid ourselves. There will be people who will not fit in the auto industry. When you try and force-fit people, you don’t get the culture that you are looking for. When you try to adapt as fast as our industry is trying to, you will need people who are prepared to challenge you, who can stand up and be bold and ask tough questions. It happens at all levels in our organisation. You can challenge, be bold, ask questions as a fresh graduate coming in to General Motors or someone who is a veteran here. It is great to see that in the culture we are fostering here.

Indian talent understands frugal engineering. It is nothing to be ashamed of. If it does the job and if you can get it done faster, cheaper and more effectively than a more complex solution, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Traditionally, when you think auto engineering, you think German engineering or Japanese technology. And then GM’s focus on design and technology in India says a lot about the talent you can find in this country.

Regardless of the country people come from, if they have the ability to think, if they are innovative, have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and can understand the business, their skillsets can be moulded and trained, and you can build that up to anything you need it to be.

Let’s ask, are you seeing the best Chevy engineers here in India compared to Germany? Maybe not. Germany may still have the best Chevy engineers in the world. But when you look at the technology base around electrical, infotainment, powertrain, propulsion, structures, analyses, there is no distinction between here and anywhere else.

I will still argue that people here believe in what they are doing, work harder and really go out of their way to show that they are just as capable if not more.

Is there anything signature you find in Indian talent versus the rest of the world?

Students here come with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Because of the cultural nuances students here have been brought up around, they can do things faster and more effectively that can be just as good as a highly complex solution someone, say in Germany, may come up with.

For me, what stands out is that they (Indian talent) understand frugal engineering. It is nothing to be ashamed of. If it does the job and if you can get it done faster, cheaper and more effectively than a more complex solution, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I see that here and not so much in other countries. It is not that it is inferior engineering but the desire to get it done in the most frugal, business-optimised fashion is a stand out.

How much is the contribution of GMTC-I, when it comes to design and engineering, to GM globally?

The Company globally sells hundreds of different models of vehicles. I’ll say 85 per cent if not more of every single vehicle sold around the world that has a GM badge on it came through this building (GMTC-I). Whether it came through here for one hour or thousands, it doesn’t matter.

There is something that is done here in GMTC-I that goes into every single vehicle globally. To me, that is pretty outstanding when you think of all the cars or trucks or commercial vehicles we sell.

Indians believe in what they are doing, work harder and really go out of their way to show that they are just as capable if not more.

How much of GM’s decision to invest in Indian talent, to focus on design and engineering in India is driven by Government initiatives, such as Make in India?

Very little if not none, honestly speaking. We are here proactively. We want to be here. We see the benefits. The Company did not do this because we were told to. We did this because we wanted to.

We just celebrated the 15th birthday of the GMTC-I two weeks ago. We have been here for a long time doing engineering, hiring people and getting talent. A lot of the work done here for the globe, is exclusive—we are the only place in the world doing it. To me, it has nothing to do with being told to be here. It is because we bring that value to the Company and the Company relies on it.

Because of the cultural nuances students here have been brought up around, they can do things faster and more effectively that can be just as good as a highly complex solution someone, say in Germany, may come up with.

What do you think has been the impact of artificial intelligence on an industry, such as auto?

We are just scratching the surface right now. The difference between talking about AI and actually making it effective and useful are two different things. When you look at the auto industry, and the complexity of vehicles, and you think about the two key elements GM is focussed on — zero crashes and zero congestion — you need high levels of intuitive or artificial learning brought in.

In order for us, as a company, to really focus on these two fundamental goals, it is going to take a huge amount of machine learning and artificial intelligence. When you get those two things right, just think about the impact on society. Think about a society where you are not contributing to crashes anymore or one, particularly here in India, with zero congestion. That is such a huge leap forward. The only way to do that is with high levels of intellect and self-learning cars and levels of mobility.

Going forward, mobility will mean a lot of things to a lot of people. It may not just be the standard types of mobility in the future. AI and machine learning are not just aimed at making a better vehicle but better mobility solutions. GM is really focussed on that and it can be a whole range of different solutions that aren’t available today anywhere in the world, including India. At one point, who knows, these technologies and vehicles will find their way into India.

But, it is widely feared that AI will adversely affect jobs.

Everyone through history said new technology is going to do away with jobs. That has never turned out to be true. Certain jobs absolutely go away but where one job does, you find two or three or 10 relevant new jobs or roles that appear.

As we set up for a more sustainable future for our kids and grandkids, if you think about the legacy we will leave behind, what the future generations will face is not less jobs, or less problems but different ones.

The types of roles that you will be hiring for in the future will be different. That is nothing to be scared about. What it really means is that the people will have the ability to think differently, their emotional intelligence will have gone up, they will think of solving problems with creativity. They will appeal to the aspects every kid has—their creativity and curiosity. If you can harness that, if people can have that level of curiosity and innovation in the future, we will definitely have jobs.

We are merely inventing jobs right now that we didn’t even know we needed a couple of years ago. We are starting to realise there are some jobs coming as we adapt to the future and the technological changes.

What is interesting about this from the HR perspective is, if you don’t know what the future role is that you want, and you try and hire based on something you don’t know about, using the standard matrix, you will be unsuccessful.

Companies will hire for skills. Big companies will hire to get the right people who have an adaptable working culture, to really harness the challenges that we are facing now and will face in the years to come. These are the companies that will be successful.

Change is not something to be scared of. Change is for people who know they want to do something different even if they don’t know what it is right now.

What a great time to be living in, what a great time to be hiring people!

Comment on the Article

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here