Back in 2014, we started sketch modelling something crazy. That was in the User Experience Studio at GM. It was a bank of buttons that was floating in mid-air. It bridged the console to the instrument panel. I never got to see the finished product. That’s because on Tuesday, August 5th 2014, I was on a one-way plane from Detroit to London. Goodbye 12 years at General Motors, goodbye United States, and hello to a brand-new challenge with Tata Motors, cheers to the United Kingdom. Monday August 11th was my first official day. Five year later, it is now a perfect time look back at the five biggest takeaways from the last five years.
The Upside Down – Part I
The first thing to absorb was the culture shock. I grew up in France so I should not have been amazed by a more socialist society. I was a teen without a worry in the world then. Now I was a family man. I knew all too well about the costs of medical coverage and education. In the UK our family uses the National Health Service. It’s cheap and efficient. I send my kids to public schools and the quality of their education has been great. As my daughter enters secondary school there will be plenty of things to worry about. A bulletproof backpack? That will not be one of them. There are a lot of great things about living in the United States. If you are an entrepreneur the US sky has no limit. We can debate for an eternity about socialised medicine and the Second Amendment. At the minimum, five years away will make you think about the choices you make as a society. I’ll leave it at that.
The Upside Down – Part II
In the United States you get your health benefits from your company. Bigger companies typically get better coverage for medical / dental / vision for yourself and for your family. You can start working at a car company as a contractor. If you are good at what you do you will eventually be offered a permanent job. And that’s a big deal. In the United Kingdom it is the complete opposite and it took some adjustment as a manager. Good contractors are hard to find. They are in demand and their pay rate can be higher than permanent employees. And of course, health coverage is universal. “Permies” receive paid holidays and other goodies on both sides of the pond. It is up to the individual to determine what best fits them.
It has been, it is and it always will be about the cars. In those five years Tata went through two iterations of Impact Design. And our digital team was more than happy to contribute. The EVision showed a compelling execution of a luxury car with Indian Design. That was the beginning of our use of Blender in automotive design. The 45X highlighted the first ever use of the parametric software Dynamo in automotive design. It also previewed the production model Altroz. And the H2X showed how a micro SUV could look tough. Each car had its mission. Each car had its different set of challenges. And guess what: I enjoy challenges. The reward is to see our cars in the metal or featured in the likes of Car Design News.
It is one thing to help design cars for the Indian market when you are 4000 miles away. It is another to be driven around a tuk-tuk at night in the middle of Pune. It’s not quite a scene from Octopussy but you get the idea. It was great to see how the cars we design were used in their natural environment. It was also the unique treat to taste for yourself the richness and diversity of the Indian culture, from the temple of Dagdusheth Ganpati in Pune to the Gate of India in Mumbai. I was also fortunate to travel across Europe: Amsterdam, Valenciennes, Munich and of course London. If you fly one hour out of Detroit you are either still in the US or in Canada. In that time in Europe it will take you to medieval times or to completely different countries. It sounds cheesy but it’s pretty cool.
The Achievement & What’s Next
In the last five years I reached one of my professional goals. It was great to check that off. And in that quest, I started my journey to master of a new skill. Even Ian Callum thinks it might be a good thing to have. I gave a speech in Amsterdam which was okay but it needed work. So, I decided to do something about it. I really got into public speaking with Toastmasters and that’s something I will keep doing in the future. When I signed up more than two years ago, I did not know that it was going to be so handy so quickly. I had to present for work in France, in Germany and in the UK. In the last five years it is definitely the best skill I picked up for myself.
In the end one thing remains: I am glad I made the change. Oh, the famous buttons made it to production in the 2020 Corvette C8. It would have been nice to be a part of it but there are no guarantees in life. Even in a booming economy GM had a massive round of layoffs just recently. Would I have been spared? I don’t know. Here’s what I know. I started writing this post from Battersea Park, a spectacular area of London. I also know that my first day at Tata was the exact same day Detroit was drowned in a biblical flood. The entire neighbourhood I lived in for 9 years was under water. I sold the house less than 2 weeks before…