Swamy Kotagiri

“If we really do our jobs well, we shouldn’t plan for the next three to five years; we should plan for the next 10 to 15 years.”

“If we really do our jobs well, we shouldn’t plan for the next three to five years; we should plan for the next 10 to 15 years.”

Chief Technology Officer, Magna International

WOW FACTOR
“Magna’s philosophy reflects my belief that people should not be compartmentalized and trapped inside a specific role. As such, I have been given the chance to build my own path and now I am able to extend the opportunity to other people.” 

Now Kotagiri encourages young engineers by inviting them to meetings, moving them from one discipline to another and keeping the door open for them to build their own paths.

PASSION FOR INDUSTRY
When Kotagiri was named VP of engineering for R&D in 2006, he became a peer of his mentor. Then, when he was named executive VP of Magna’s Cosma International Group in 2008, he ultimately became boss to his former boss.

“In true succession planning, you try to grow somebody who will hopefully continue what you started. The two gentlemen are still with us here. One of the gentlemen is chief engineer of Magna. The other gentleman retired, but still works at least three days advising, mentoring and doing projects. That couldn’t have been done if there wasn’t the relationship and understanding of the company’s vision.

“If we really do our jobs well, we shouldn’t plan for the next three to five years; we should plan for the next 10 to 15 years. I shouldn’t be hanging onto my job if someone else is capable of taking my vision, my thought process, my baby to the next step.”

VIEW FROM THE TOP
“How do we make vehicles smarter, cleaner, safer, lighter and keep them affordable?” This is the question that drives innovation at Magna, says Kotagiri. “I think it’s a short way of saying what we want our product portfolio to be. How do we make sure that the product is evolving to change with the future in the auto industry?

“There’s a lot of discussion of how cars are going to look or how they’re going to be used. For example, is the car-sharing economy going to grow and what is the impact? These are some of the key points. My personal opinion is there’s going to be more impact on the transition for how the cars will be powered. Fully autonomous driving is further away than we think. But, the technology that will make it happen will come sooner while the regulations and the legalities are going to take some time.”

CORPORATE CLIMB
“When I came from General Motors to Magna (Cosma), I was a structural engineer. My job was to create mathematical models of different systems in the car and see how they would behave in a certain physical environment, with vibrations (for example), or in a crash. Then, Magna started a program where I was responsible not only for modeling, but also for physical testing and validation, which in a typical environment would not have been possible. It enriched my ability to take my experience back to the computational model.”

When Kotagiri expressed an interest in R&D on parts joining technology, management assigned him to run the program, where he gained experience building prototypes. When management thought he needed operations experience, he was assigned to Magna’s international operations and launched new plants in Thailand and India. “Having that widespread experience is extremely useful.”

CREDENTIALS
•     Bachelor’s degree, mechanical engineering, Karnataka University, India
•     Master’s degree, mechanical engineering, Oklahoma State University
•     Holder of several patents

VOICE OF EXPERIENCE
“We are optimizing components and systems to make them lighter. For instance, Magna delivered multiple product innovations that have either debuted or are coming soon in Cadillac vehicles, including carbon fiber hoods, which are 72 percent lighter than steel hoods, and 13 high-pressure aluminum die-cast components for the body and chassis of the Cadillac CT6. These weight-saving components contribute to the overall mass reduction of the CT6, making it more agile, efficient and lighter than competitive offerings.” 

– Interviewed by Ilene Wolf