Vote: Businessperson of the Year – Auto all-stars
UPDATE: The results are in. Here are this year’s reader’s choice winners. Thanks for voting!
Editor’s note: Every year, Fortune selects its Businessperson of the Year (we’ll reveal our winner along with the runners up on November 21). But we want to open up the selection process to you, our readers. Fortune contributor Doron Levin offers his top choices in the auto industry. Cast your vote below for this year’s reader’s choice picks.
The automotive industry is the ultimate team sport, exceptionally reliant on large numbers of bright individuals across a broad array of disciplines for the success of a single vehicle model or the company that made it. Still, star performers can make a difference.
The following are half a dozen standouts in automaking, non-CEOs and generally not well known outside the industry, whose feats have moved the needle for their employers over the past year or so – and sometimes longer than that.
Franz von Holzhausen, Designer of the Tesla Model S
Tesla (TSLA), the electric-car company founded by Elon Musk, has had an unprecedented run among investors, its stock gaining almost 300% in the past year. The implied value of the company is $16.8 billion – largely on the strength of the Model S sedan, whose design was led by Franz von Holzhausen. Formerly director of design for Mazda North America, he also worked for General Motors (GM) and is a graduate of the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena.
John Krafcik, President and CEO of Hyundai America
Prior to Krafcik’s arrival at Hyundai in 2004, the South Korean automaker had gained a reputation for impatience, firing executives, especially U.S.-based executives, in a summary fashion. Since becoming president in 2008, Krafcik has led the team that’s increased Hyundai’s U.S. market share 50% and won North American Car of the Year for the Genesis premium model in 2009 and the Elantra compact in 2012. Prior to Hyundai, he worked in product planning at Ford (F) and was the first American engineer at the General Motors-Toyota (TM) join venture in Fremont, Calif. Krafcik holds a mechanical engineering degree from Stanford University and is a graduate of the Sloan School of Management at MIT.
Joe Hinrichs, Ford, president of the Americas
When Alan Mulally was tapped as CEO of Ford Motor Co. in 2006, the automaker lagged far behind its peers in developing a strategy for making and selling vehicles in China. Hinrichs, who had started his career at General Motors, was a rising star at Ford who had caught Mulally’s eye. After being promoted to run global manufacturing in 2007, Hinrichs was sent to China by Mulally in 2009 to lead an aggressive growth campaign. On his watch, Ford opened or started construction on nine new manufacturing plants in China, India, and southeast Asia and committed to launch 50 new vehicle models through 2015. In December 2012, Hinrichs was appointed executive vice president, responsible for Ford’s activities in the western hemisphere. After Mark Fields, who is widely expected to succeed Mulally as CEO, Hinrichs is regarded as the next highest ranked executive at Ford.
Olivier Francois, Chief Marketing Officer of Chrysler and head of the Fiat brand
Ads featuring comedian Will Ferrell as fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy flogging the new Dodge Durango mark Francois’ latest eye-catching campaign. He is a Frenchman who is working under the direct command of Sergio Marchionne to create a successful collaboration between two of the industry’s weaker automakers, Fiat and Chrysler. He has broken from conventional automotive advertising by grabbing the attention of viewers, sometimes audaciously, with refreshing creativity. The first campaign that drew attention to Francois was the much-discussed and noticed “Imported from Detroit” series. For his marketing prowess Adweek magazine named him a “Grand Brand Genius,” while Advertising Age gave Chrysler the award for “Marketer of the Year.” A Parisian with a degree in economics, finance and marketing, Francois spent most of his career at Citroen before moving to Fiat in 2005.
Ulrich Hackenberg, Board Member for Technical Development, Audi
The German automobile industry takes its engineering reputation seriously, which is why the heads of research and development at German automakers often carry the title “professor” as well as “doctor.” Hackenberg, management board member for R&D at Audi, the luxury division of Volkswagen, is one of these, having attained his engineering training at Aachen University. At Audi, he has supervised the development of advanced technologies, such as those critical to autonomous driving. Another claim to fame is his stewardship of VW’s MQB architecture that forms the base of the new Golf, introduced in Europe but not yet in the U.S., and numerous other models. MQB could be the basis for up to 40% of VW, Audi, Seat, and other models worldwide, which could bring a big cost savings compared to what the automaker might have spent to develop multiple vehicle architectures. Creating one architecture that can be stretched, expanded, contracted, modified, and otherwise changed to suit a number of different models wasn’t simple. Hackenberg, who is widely respected across the auto industry, has ascended about as high as one can go on the VW organizational chart without actually running the whole show.
Carla Bailo, Senior Vice President, Research & Development, Nissan-Americas
Media scrutiny over the slow growth of the market for battery-powered electric vehicles has brought a great deal of attention to Nissan and, by extension, to its head of R&D. Nissan has claimed industry leadership of EVs with its $1.8 billion investment in the Leaf and other models to come later. At a media event in August, the press asked Bailo if Nissan might be backing off in light of slow sales. Not a bit, she said. In fact, Nissan intended to expand its model offering to five from the three that had been announced. And the automaker was developing a system of recharging EV batteries wirelessly, by induction. A native of Detroit, she began her career at General Motors as an engineer in the automaker’s truck and bus group. Nissan hired her in 1989 and she eventually was transferred to Japan. She won acclaim inside the automaker, as well as an award from Chairman Carlos Ghosn, for her role on the “recovery committee” that was formed to contend with the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Having been advised closely by a high school chemistry teacher and persuaded to take up engineering, she says she now pursues mentoring seriously on behalf of others.