U.S. Auto Industry under Siege: Calls for Visionary Leaders


The future of the auto industry of the U.S. appears to be dismal. Figures show a dropping demand this summer prompting Moody to carve out its prospect from stable to negative.  A steep decline in sales from 17.3m in the year 2018 to 16.9m in the year 2019 has been predicted by Edmunds. At the same time, AlixPartner has augured an added dip to 16.3 in the year 2002 and 15.1m in the year 2021.

However, the auto industry has experienced dire straits even before and yet to roar back again driven by visionary and bold leadership.

Lee Iacocca, the man behind the launch of Ford Mustang, is remembered for rescuing Chrysler from a sunken state, and, after the other leaders had jilted the concept, defending the minivan. Albeit, it is less flashy in comparison to Mustang, it was reported that the humble minivan had turned out to be one of the most remunerative products that has ever been created and it inspired a long-line of copycats. This, in turn, helped Chrysler profit billions of dollars in sales for several years.

Frank Ahrens from Forbes wrote that only a genius will be able to look at a thing that everyone is looking and realize a huge hole in the market, the chasmal requirement so elemental that consumers just won’t be able to put it into words. He wrote Steve Job was able to do this and so was Iacocca. Even though visionary leadership, like those household names, might appear to be an inborn quality. A leader has to foster it in itself if they plan to reach the top. 

As a matter of fact, a Wharton professor, Rob-Jan de Jong who has also authored the book Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead has stated that the capability to engage and lead with a purposeful picture. According to him, this is the primary skill that sets them apart from the rest. Here are some of the steps that leaders can take in case they desire to follow the steps of Iacocca.

Seize Your Imagination

Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes, the academics had questioned several workers the quality they look for and adored in a leader. The quality of the topped the list was forward-looking followed by honesty. This is the real mark of leadership. While only 27% of the workers wanted their colleagues to have forward-thinking quality, 72% desired their leaders to be forward-looking.  As per Posner and Kouzes, no attribute showed a marked difference between a colleague and a leader.

As it is necessary to predict, leaders need to seize their imagination in case they want to be forward-looking. James Kerr, the global chair of consulting practices from N2Growth, the leadership advisory firm’s time for pondering over different options to the firm’s present way of doing things and exploring potentiality for making changes can be a gateway to seeing what’s forthcoming.   He states that through considerations like these that breakthrough happens and prospective to noteworthy advances come to light.

Philip Krim, Casper founder, the company which reimagined the mattress buying procedure is a forward-looking leader. Rather than operating stores that are staffed with salespeople, the whole ordering process of Casper takes place online. Customers of the company get the mattresses in their mail, shrunken in a large box. Moreover, the customers are given 100 nights to decide if they would like to keep the mattress. The return procedure is also hassle-free.

Krim has stated that the company depending on crazy stuff. According to him, this is the way they create a brand. Since the time of its establishment in 2014, Casper has matured to a market share of $1.1 billion. It has posted net revenue of $373m in the year 2018. Notably, it also set afloat their ever land-based store in 2018 and is planning to open more of them. The company is an example that being creative and future-oriented doesn’t need reinventing the wheel.

Zooming In and Then Out

Bridgewater Associates’s former CEO, Ray Dalio while doing his research on Principles had questioned leaders such as Reed Hastings, Bill Gates, and Jack Dorsey for taking an elaborated personality test. With this, he came to discover that a trait of a visionary leader, the one he refers to as ‘shapers,’  is the capability to see the whole picture along with the granular details that are, each level in between and then incorporate the perspective they secure at these levels. While other people simply see one or the other.

SCMS School of Technology and Management’s professor, Many Melwin states in his article regarding visionary leaders that they strike a balance between the visceral left-brain and the rational right-brain functions. He also wrote that their reasoning is systematic and broad, at the same time. It takes the big picture into account and interlinks or underlies the patterns. Using this ability they create innovative strategies for helping accomplish their vision.

Paul Polman is a good example stepped outside his role as the CEO of Unilever. In the course of his tenure, he focused on selling consumer goods, the granular, as well as environmental responsibility, the bigger picture through a Sustainable Living Plan that had the ambitious aim of halving the impact of Unilever while doubling the revenue.

Polman has said that VUCA is the term that they use for describing the world, uncertain, volatile, ambiguous, and complex. It is complex enough to get a complete picture. The water, food, and energy are inter-related and thus, it is really difficult for people to understand where to begin and where to end.

People yearning to transform into a visionary leader from an effective executive like Iacocca and Polman imagination and perspective are the top qualities required. Even though Iacocca has been criticized by many for his business and personal failures since the time of his death, a majority have concentrated on the influential leadership style that they had. In fact, he has also been compared to present-day pioneers like Mary Barra and Elon Musk.