Project Management in the automotive industry: Interview with Andrea Franco

Date: 21/05/2024| Category: Tips and interviews|

At the heart of any successful company is a robust understanding of market opportunities and management best practices. That is why, in September 2023 QRP decided to implement an Advisory Board in order to develop the activities of the company. This board is composed of Carl Lenaerts, Guy Ballantine and Andrea Franco.

In order to meet the Advisory board, we had interviews to get to know them better. In today’s interview we meet Andrea Franco, Vice President HR at Marelli. Andrea gives us an interesting insight into the essential role of the Project Manager for the realisation of complex projects in the automotive sector.

Can you give us a brief summary of your work experiences? What are you currently doing in your work?

My professional career began in 1987 at Fiat Auto SpA, where I worked both in Italy and abroad, dealing with the development and implementation at the Fiat Auto plants of the Fiat Lean Manufacturing Model. Furthermore, I managed the start-up of new plants in Argentina and Brazil . Upon my return to Italy I took charge of Product, Marketing, Sales and Consumer Care. Subsequently, I worked in Case New Holland, Iveco and Fiat Group Purchasing holding various regional and global HR roles. WhenFiat Chrysler Automobiles came into life, I was tasked with managing the Far East markets (India and China) and emerging countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, South Africa, Dubai, the Emirates and Serbia. During this time I became the point of reference for HR for the construction of the new plants in China, India, Serbia and Brazil.

Later on I supported Magneti Marelli in the development of six more plants in Brazil. After that experience, I managed the creation of MCube (the Marelli Manufacturing Model) that has spread over more than 75 plants worldwide in more than 15 different countries.

In 2019 I joined Marelli, where I currently hold key HR roles in the Production, Quality, PMO, Procurements and Management of the strategic Green Technology Solutions Division. Within this division we have more than 25 plants in more than 15 countries and with around 8500 employees .

How did you discover QRP and why did you choose this challenge to join the advisory board of this company?

Before QRP, I met Jacobus Groot, the Managing Director. He had two companies at the time; the first was Thomas International and the second one QRP. Actually I have collaborated with him on the Thomas side for several years, because in our company we used Thomas International’s tools in internal talent development and recruitment. It was a strategic partnership that enabled us to achieve important goals. At the same time I also got to know QRP better, and I liked the idea of having the opportunity to help this company reach a higher level of business development.

As you know QRP is specialised in project management certification and courses.

Can you tell us what the main specificities and challenges of project management in the automotive industry are?

The biggest challenge in automotive and automotive Components has always been to develop products on time and to the level of quality expected by the end user while maintaining the right contribution margin. This objective guarantees success for the company, as it is the prerequisite for profitability and cash flow. Project management is therefore the science of creating a healthy pipeline in the supply chain and safeguarding the interests of the company at every gate, while also maximising the interests of the end customer.

Project management is a function and a core competence that I fell in love with when I had the opportunity to take on the Project Manager function at Magneti Marelli in 2016, separating it from the classic Product Development with which it had been largely confused until then. For me, the Project Manager is a bit like the CEO of the product throughout its life: from the development phase through the industrialisation phase and into the production launch and mass production phase. Without good project management it is very difficult to meet customers’ needs and, above all, to ensure the profitability of the products that are developed by the organisation over time.

In your career, what has been the most interesting project in which you have participated?

I have gained project management skills on my own because I have managed major projects. For example: to build more than one manufacturing plant in faraway little industrialised countries was a great experience. It required great project management skills, planning and structuring the project itself using project management techniques. That includes the various activities and how they developed over time, as well as the milestones and related KPIs to monitor the progress of the activities.

To give you an idea, the development of a green field plant (which equals starting basically from scratch in a project) translates into a very complex project. The coordinated management of these activities and the achievement of project goals requires the presence of a key figure, without whom things do not happen. The Project Manager is the one who ensures that things happen while respecting costs, time, quality levels and final delivery. For me the Project Manager is the captain; that figure to whom all employees must refer in order to accomplish their mission.

Do you use a specific project management certification in your work?

I don’t use it, but I am very much in favour of obtaining project management certifications because they force people to stay up to date with specific topics, and thus be up to speed with particular situations. In my experience, there is no other way to operate than with a correct project management approach.

I studied project management by applying it because it was necessary for the tasks that were assigned to me. Having to deal with very complex projects, I needed to learn and use project management and its systems in real-life projects with a high degree of difficulty.

Besides technical skills, what do you think are the necessary soft skills essential for a Project Manager?

The most relevant part of project management remains centred around soft skills. By soft skills I mean a style of participative leadership that is emotionally advanced and knows how to fundamentally motivate and lead people. Especially in difficult times, it is essential to accompany people emotionally until the final result is achieved.

A manager who knows how to touch people’s brains and hearts, and who leads them to a higher level of participation, can do that with the combination of participative leadership and a winning mindset. What is crucial is the human side of things, the side that allows us to be empathetic to the people we work with and to know how to treat them properly. The appropriate way is the one where there is a win-win situation between the objective (e.g., the development of a new product, the development of a new project, the development of a new plant) and professional growth or personal development.

In your opinion, are project management certifications a good indicator of a candidate’s competence and ability?

Certifications are a good indicator of competence and they are also a good indicator of motivation. That is why I value them highly. Project management certifications are the objectification of a sincere interest in the subject and they are part of the mindset that successful project management requires.

As a Vice President of HR, is employee training something that, in your opinion, is important to do?

In our company we have always done it and for us it is an important aspect. We went so far that we have set up our own in-house academy, but without providing certifications. Having only discovered QRP after the creation of our academy, on the one hand this was a lost opportunity, but today it allows me to work with QRP because there is no conflict of interest. However, if I were not on the QRP Advisory Board today, we would definitely be clients of QRP.

Andrea Franco

Vice President HR at Marelli

Andrea Franco began his professional career in 1987 at Fiat Auto SpA, working both in his hometown Turin and internationally, particularly managing start-up projects for new plants in Argentina, China, India ,USA, Serbia, Mexico and Brazil.

Subsequently, he worked in Case New Holland, Iveco and Fiat Group Purchasing, before returning to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, where he was in charge of the Far East markets (India and China) Morocco, Egypt, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Serbia, United Arab Emirates, contributing to the creation of the Jeep plant in Pernambuco (Brazil) and supporting Magneti Marelli in the development of six plants in the Jeep Supplier Park in Goiana (Brazil).

After a brief experience in Datalogic as Chief Human Resources Officer, he joined Marelli in September 2019, where he currently holds key HR roles in Production, Quality, Purchasing and management of the Green Technology Solutions Division.

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