PLYMOUTH, MI – Bosch North America is reshaping its business, much like others in the automotive space, to prepare for a software-driven mobility revolution. But the industrialist wants to retrain its workforce rather than rehire a fresh batch of employees to meet the digital demands of tomorrow.
Bosch is on a hiring spree to the tune of 25,000 people worldwide in the next few years across its four business sectors of automotive, which it calls mobility solutions, industrial technology, consumer goods and energy and building technology.
Those new hires, however, will complement current employees undergoing a massive update of their skill set to fuel innovation, says Maximiliane Straub, chief financial officer, executive vice president-Controlling, Finance and Administration.
“It is a symbiosis of both,” Straub says of new hires and retrained employees. “It is a very, very powerful combination.”
The personnel strategy runs counter to those of other automotive heavyweights, such as General Motors and Ford, which are offering buyout packages to legacy employees or cutting jobs outright to make room for new hires and a diversification of their businesses into connectivity, autonomy and electrification.
Straub declines to judge which approach is more cost-effective or efficient, although she says losing intellectual capital is never a good thing.
“We absolutely do not want to lose that knowledge,” says Straub, whose duties also include the digital transformation at Bosch and championing innovation within its workforce. “What we have is a learning organization, so creativity, collaboration, communication, curiosity are the skills we are trying to develop.”
It is not empty rhetoric, either, Bosch insiders say. The company’s lead manager for electrification in North America, for example, is a former powertrain engineer. The head of autonomy also is a mechanical engineer by training, and the chief of its radar business has a degree in psychology.
One platform driving Bosch’s transformation is its Innovation Framework, a program led by Straub that resembles the Shark Tank television reality show. It is a space where employees can pitch their homespun innovations to Straub and other leaders with hopes of landing seed money to commercialize their idea. The process also exposes them to emerging technologies that may enhance their innovation and broaden their skill set.
“We do not just throw money at people,” Straub tells Wards during an interview at Bosch’s recently expanded technical center here.
“We develop them, from teaching how ideation works through creating new business models, and then giving them micro-funding so they can then actually do things, like rapid prototyping and truly go out and ask the customers if they are solving a pain point,” she says.
Innovation Framework In Action
Now in its sixth year, Innovation Framework has generated $95 million in contracted sales. One of its recent successes is a breakthrough safety product for trailers and recreational vehicles. The Bosch Trailer Safety Technology adds ABS to trailers to prevent brake lockup in much the same way as it does on cars and trucks.
“The idea is to actuate the trailer brakes, but do it in a smart way,” says Jeff Roder, a 34-year-old project manager at Bosch who came up with the innovation after becoming intimately familiar with the trailer industry while developing an integrated brake controller for a customer in the 2015-2016 timeframe.
“Without ABS, when you hit the brakes on the truck the brakes on the trailer also will be actuated, but if the trailer starts sliding left or right, or you’re on ice, those wheels could lock,” he says. “If the wheels lock, you lose stability, you lose control, the trailer is more likely to sway or roll and more bad things can happen.”
Bad things happen often, too, Roder discovered. He studied NHTSA crash data and found 400 people are killed annually in trailer and RV crashes and 16,000 have died since 1975. Another 20,000 are injured annually and 530,000 have been hurt since 1988.
“It was clear there was a gap in safety,” Roder says.
Roder’s technology (pictured, below) checks whether the trailer brakes are locked and releases brake pressure by a degree to get the wheels rolling again. Pressure is added again to a point just before lockup.
“With that algorithm, you always keep the wheels rolling and prevent lockup, which is the whole principle of ABS,” he says.
Codenamed “George Jetson’s Trailer” for its smart capability, it spent nine months in the Innovation Framework receiving periodic feedback from Bosch leadership before getting the green light for commercialization with Elkhart, IN-based Dexter Axle.
Roder, whose entrepreneurial spirit dates to starting a sealcoating business at age 18, says the Innovation Framework was a difficult process but he always felt confident.
“We did our research, we knew our customer and the problem we were trying to solve. I knew I was going to get grilled,” he adds, saying the depth of market research set his team apart from others. “It was a tremendous learning process in many ways.”
Innovation Framework itself remains a work in progress, Straub says. In the beginning, for instance, the program was too structured, she says, with leadership choosing projects most likely bound for success. It later turned in the other direction, inviting all innovations until Bosch narrowed it back a bit.
“We needed to get somewhere in the middle,” Straub recalls. “We know everyone can innovate and we want to give them the tools to innovate, but not everyone can go all the way through Innovation Framework because it is a very intense program.”
It is intense for Bosch leadership, too, who are asked to donate their time to the platform.
“Innovation is hard work,” Straub says. “It’s not about the money we give. It’s how much attention we give, and one of our clear learnings is without our commitment as leaders it will not work.”
At the end of the day, the focus must be on the customer, she adds.
“It must solve a customer pain point, not world hunger,” Straub says. “Over time, customer-centricity has become an absolute must, and you cannot go further if you have not talked to your customers or potential customers.”