Interview Kim Liebregts, CEO Tesla Benelux
On the 5th and 6thof October, the ninth edition of the EBF Conference takes place. It is the largest economic and business conference of the Netherlands and attracts about 600 participants each year. This year’s theme is ‘Managing Earth Inc. :The Leaders of Tomorrow.
Tesla, the rising popularity of this company seems to be unstoppable. One of the keynote speakers of this year’s EBF Conference is Kim Liebregts, CEO of Tesla Benelux. We have had the honor to ask her a few questions.
How was your student life?
I certainly didn’t appreciate enough how uncomplicated life is, while still in school. I enjoyed it and I made many friends which I’m still close to. However, if I could do it again, I would probably pay more attention.
You started your career in the tourism sector. How did you end up as the leader of an automotive company?
After 13 years exploring all branches of tourism, ranging from 5 years abroad as a hostess to being a travel agency manager, it was time for a new challenge. My first adventure outside tourism as an export manager was a disaster. I hated every minute of it. I told myself that the next job I was going to apply for, was one that I was going to keep for the next 13 years. I simply love cars, have done so my entire life, but I never knew how to switch my career and get into that industry. Six years ago, when Renault Eindhoven was looking for female sales managers to sell its EV’s, everything clicked. I applied, got hired and the Eindhoven branch sold the most EV’s of all dealerships in the Netherlands. Almost 2 years in, Tesla found me on LinkedIn. I started as the manager of the Eindhoven Store and from the start we were very successful. So successful, that when the candidate for my current job dropped out at the very last moment, Tesla asked me to give it a try. I didn’t think I could do it to be honest because it’s a big responsibility, but Tesla believed in me and here we are almost 4 years down the line.
I told myself that the next job I was going to apply for, was one that I was going to keep for the next 13 years.
According to you, to what does Tesla owe its popularity?
Tesla is a company with a mission: We want to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. More than that, we make it look cool. Beautiful, fast cars that can be updated wirelessly and improve while they get older. They’ll have the ability to be self-driving within the next few years, which is pretty mind-blowing. On the energy side, the slick, stylish sunroofs make your house look better, and don’t disturb the surroundings, like traditional solar roofs do. All of this is largely driven by our CEO and product engineer Elon Musk, who is crazy inspiring and I believe, one of the greatest minds of our time.
Many students are great fans of Elon Musk. Do you often work together with him? How is Elon in real life?
He only has one question for us every time: ‘How can we do better in every single way?’
I’ve met Elon on several occasions and he has regular calls with our European Director team. He only has one question for us every time: ‘How can we do better in every single way?’ Think about the product, customer experience, financial programs, service etc. And the beauty is that he listens and uses the feedback to improve the company. That goes for all feedback he receives; it doesn’t matter if feedback is coming from a director, a customer, a sales advisor or a detailer. Everyone can chip in and help make the company better.
Traditionally, the automotive industry is a real men’s world. How does it feel to have a leading position in this business?
It feels pretty normal. I rather had to get used to my position as a leader in general, than to being in this business. At Tesla, we don’t care about gender, race, age or everything that comes with that. Here, I’m just Kim and I manage my team. It’s the rest of the world that sees me, a woman in a leading position in the car industry, as a deviation.
This year’s Conference theme is “Managing Earth Inc.” How does this theme play a role in your life?
I do what I can. I drive electric, I separate my trash, we have a sustainable energy provider at home, and I’d love to have a solar roof in our new house. I never throw away clothes but I always bring them to charity. I buy products in the supermarket with the 35% discount labelthat are almost past their expiration date and I yell at my stepchildren if they keep the light on while going to bed (again!).
Tesla has just opened a store in Groningen. What has been Tesla’s motivation to come to Groningen?
The time was right and we would have come sooner, if we had found the right location earlier. Next to that, Tesla only had one store in the Netherlands in 2013, and we needed to expand the business. You cannot do that at once, you have to make choices in where you open new stores. However, I already wanted Groningen as a location for a long time. There are inspiring, sustainable initiatives in this neighborhood and we already had a great following. Thus, I’m really happy we have a store in Groningen now and it is doing very well.
What makes you really happy after a long day of work?
I should of course say, going to the gym or read a book, but that’s a lie. Truth is: an ice cold Le Chouffe or Blond Leffe and then firing up the Big Green Egg and sit in the garden with family and friends makes me happier. Very cliché, but it’s the best.
What can we expect from Tesla in the near future?
So much. The electric truck is up next in September. Furthermore, the Model Y, and Electric busses are on its way. The cars have a self-drive system and a platform that allows your car to make money for you. The list is endless and Tesla is here to stay.
Work hard, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something, and stay true to your beliefs
We would like to end by asking: if you could give one piece of advice to the students of Groningen, what will it be?
Work hard, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something, and stay true to your beliefs. Most of my surroundings laughed at me when I told them I was going into the electrical car business. However, I thought it was awesome and I did it anyway. It turned out to be the coolest experience of my life.
Are you even more interested now? Kim will tell more on the 5th & 6 th of October at 10:20. Don’t forget to sign up for the EBF Conference on the 5th and 6th of October before the 1st of October!!
EBF Conference 2017 21-09-2017