Similar topics, different context: My changeover from a startup to Porsche

I never owned a car. As I have mainly lived in bigger cities, car sharing services and new mobility solutions brought me from A to B. If I had been told five years ago that one day I would be working for Porsche, I probably would have thought it was a joke.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Before Porsche, I had nothing to do with the automotive and mobility industry, nor had I worked in a large industrial enterprise. Instead I came from the startup ecosystems, e.g. having co-founded a food startup. So, what brought me from the Berlin startup scene to the global Porsche Group in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen? How do I find my way between these different worlds?

A new kind of freedom: from Co-Founder to Innovation Manager

What lured me to Stuttgart was the challenge behind the position as Innovation Manager Finance & IT. In numerous discussions with my boss-to-be Anja Hendel, who (now) is Director Innovation and Digital Transformation Finance and also heads the Porsche Digital Lab Berlin, one thing became really clear: The department in which I would be working had not been founded yet but would have the goal of advancing innovation and digital transformation in the Finance and IT department.

There was also no set definition of my role and tasks. As Anja put it in her typically positive way of seeing things, I would have a lot of freedom and the opportunity to break new ground. It surprised me — so much creative leeway at a well-established corporation like Porsche?

Right from the start, this pioneer spirit convinced and attracted me.

Besides, I would be the first employee in this new department. Part of the work would be to set up an experienced team with colleagues who want to work under high uncertainty regarding the expected results. A diverse team that combines as many facets, perspectives and skills as possible — and complements each other optimally. All in all, this mix of uncertainty, freedom and opportunity to create something from scratch sounded very familiar to me — they were also part of my startup experiences.

Photo by Mathias Jensen on Unsplash

Similar topics, different context — a learning

Of course, the changeover from startup to corporate fulfilled some corporate stereotypes — but I was also surprised about the many similarities. By now, I learned that it doesn’t matter if you build an innovative product or service yourself — as you do in a startup — or if you build a department that is supposed to create “innovation” itself. It all comes down to building a solution that addresses a need that’s worth solving. In the process of finding that solution, you always try to minimize the risks that come with it, meaning the resources invested.

The course of invest & risk

Key to this approach is that you ask the right questions early in the process and test possible solutions before you start building expensive software (“Fake it ‘till you make it”). For us, the process looks something like this:

  • Define & Understand your customer(s): Our customers are mostly internal which is why our main question is: How do changes in our environment influence our employees, internal structures, processes and the way we work together?
  • Build concepts & hypothesis: Combining different sources of information allows us to derive insights and create first concepts for possible solutions. We then ask: What do we need to answer first in order to understand better if the concept might work?
  • Do, Test & Learn: By testing various hypothesis we step by step try to understand better if a solution is desirable (Do we solve a real need?), feasible (Can it be built?) and viable (Can it create a positive RoI?).

Setting the stage: Our mission

During this iterative process, we take the time to pause and reflect in order to not only build solutions that work, but also to gain a better understanding of the needs inside the Finance & IT department. We understand better and better that it is not on us to be innovative and to invent new products and services ourselves, but to enable the company and our colleagues to be innovative.

We have to take on our leadership role by creating an environment that enables collaboration, ideation and speed but also leaves room to pause and reflect. Also, sharing trust, distributing decision making and communicating vision and purpose are fundamental to become a more innovative company. By now, we can see that we already made the first step towards a culture that supports and values the process of continuous innovation.

Inspiration 911, sculpture in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen

Our greater mission is now clear: We are most successful in our job when we are no longer needed and we, as innovation department, are superfluous. I’ve been asked several times if that doesn’t scare me or demotivates me — no, it doesn’t. Because our project is still in its baby shoes. Supporting a new corporate culture takes time.

We are striving for long-term change in cooperation and still have a long way to go. This is a super exciting journey, which I’d be glad to share with you.

Felix Hagemeier, Innovation Manager Finance & IT at Porsche

Felix Hagemeier is Innovation Manager Finance & IT at Porsche. To find out more, follow Porsche Digital Lab on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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