I’m Ron Arnesen, Executive Chief Engineer for Chevrolet, and This Is How I Work

I'm Ron Arnesen, Executive Chief Engineer for Chevrolet, and This Is How I Work

Designing a car from the ground up, from road to roof, is a huge collaborative undertaking that requires someone at the wheel to guide the car’s development. At Chevrolet, one such executive is Ron Arnesen, who is responsible for the design and development of the Chevy Malibu.

Mr. Arnesen and his team oversees hundreds of engineers and manufacturers across the world working on their large and midsize cars. Sounds like a pretty tall order, but Ron is enthusiastic about his endless work. We caught up with him to learn an little about how he manages his responsibilities.


Location: My home base is at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, MI, but I also spend a lot of time at our other global Engineering Centers in China, Germany, Korea and Brazil.

 

Current gig: I’m an Executive Chief Engineer for Chevrolet. Even though my title has “Engineer” in it, my responsibilities are much broader than engineering. My team and I are responsible for overall program management of all large and midsize cars including the Chevy Malibu and Chevy Cruze. This includes managing the current products we have in the market, while also developing future models.

One word that best describes how I work: Full-throttle. Is that considered one word? The automotive industry is global and super competitive. The result is a business environment that runs 24 hours per day—and it moves fast!

Current mobile device: My most cherished possession is my iPhone 6. I didn’t appreciate how totally dependent I am on my cell phone until I had to give it up recently for just a few hours to have it replaced. No calendar, no email access while away from my computer and no texting during pauses in meetings. Want to see me out-of-sorts? Just separate me from my phone.

Current Computer: I’m a big fan of all things Apple and very much admire the company. That said, I have an HP EliteBook 840 for work and it’s a great machine. I do have an iMac at home that I use for surfing the web, catching up on the news, and for my photography hobby (which I rarely get to).

What software or tools can’t you live without?

I am big into texting applications to help me stay in contact with colleagues, friends and family, such as iMessage and WhatsApp. When I’m in my car, I cannot live without Apple CarPlay. I can go seamlessly from office to home to driving and still have safe and convenient access to my most used iPhone functions—all displayed on my car’s screen using the familiar Apple design layout. Very cool!

What’s your workspace setup like?

Even though Albert Einstein quoted, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” I keep a pretty clean desk and my office is pretty bare. No stacks of paper, or rows of pictures and trinkets.

I spend a lot of time away from my traditional office, so my workplace is often a conference room, a hotel room, or my seat on a plane. It’s very rare that I am separated from my briefcase which contains my laptop and everything else I need to conduct business from wherever I am.

I'm Ron Arnesen, Executive Chief Engineer for Chevrolet, and This Is How I Work

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

It’s always been a fight for me to maintain any sort of work/life balance. Recently, I decided to try a different tack and actually meld my work and personal time a little closer together. I’m trying to stop fighting the separation of work and personal life so much, if you will, to be a little more flexible with the personal and professional aspects of my life. I’ve found that this can work if you really love what you do, and if you have a flexible working environment and a supportive significant other. I am lucky to have all of these elements.

The most important “life hack” in this regard is to have the mental discipline to “stay completely in the moment” as they say. If I am going to take a call with Asia from home during dinner time, then I am 100 percent focused on that call. But once the call is done, I try to be completely focused on my personal life, and not spend the next hour mentally rehashing the phone call. Sometimes it is not easy to quickly and completely switch gears, but with practice it can be done.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

My primary to-do manager is my Outlook calendar that syncs between my laptop and cell phone. I make notes in the daily calendar entries for tasks that are due in the next few days. I also use the reminder app on my iPhone. There’s always more to-do’s on the daily list than I can conquer, but it feels great every time I “kill” a big one.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My iPad. Best investment I’ve ever made. I have not bought a paper book since I’ve had the iPad.

What gadget or tool or software is a necessity for your particular work designing cars?

We run design reviews and conference calls on a daily basis with business partners in other locations. We depend on WebEx to share visuals and documents online during these reviews.

What’s your dream car? Let’s say you win the lotto or whatever, what would be sitting your garage?

Right now it’s the new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu—one of the cars we’re working tirelessly to launch in a couple of months. It’s amazing to see how advanced technologies are now becoming available on midsize cars like the Chevrolet Malibu—anything from a WiFi hotspot in your car and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality, to semi-autonomous safety features like Lane Keep Assist and Automatic Parking Assist. When I win the lottery though, I’ll have a Cadillac CT6 parked in my garage.

I'm Ron Arnesen, Executive Chief Engineer for Chevrolet, and This Is How I Work

Fair enough! You’ve probably spent so much time working on it that it’s literally in your dreams. What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

I can sleep anytime and anywhere, including on a plane. I can fly all night, and wake up ready to go in whatever region I just landed in. Not sure that there’s any secret or lesson to be shared here. Just lucky I guess.

What do you listen to while you work?

In this area I am for sure “old school.” I don’t listen to music at work. If I did though, I would listen to whatever new music my adult children like. They have varied tastes and listen to pop, rap, and country. We share an iTunes account and so I end up with all of their music synced to my devices. At home I listen to Spotify and Apple Radio. I especially enjoy Spotify’s top 50 lists by country.

What are you currently reading?

Unfortunately, way too many emails. A huge part of my job is communication and keeping the different teams working on a project coordinated. And, with all of the different regions and time zones we work across, email is the natural channel for exchanging information and communicating.

How do you recharge?

I relax and recharge by exercising and spending time with loved-ones. I try to get in 4-5 sessions of cardio or circuit training per week, and picked up bicycling this summer. In the winter I try to keep up with my son on a snowboard. He’s really good and very fast. According to him I’m “okay for an old guy.”

What’s your sleep routine like?

I try like mad to get at least six hours of sleep per night, but often don’t. As I mentioned, I am very fortunate to be able to pretty much sleep on command, and I don’t have issues with jet lag while traveling. This is a huge advantage for me, as my position requires me to work across several time zones and I often need to be involved in calls at odd hours. When I’m at home, I get up between 4:00-5:00 during the week. That first hour or so of work, when it’s still quiet, is when I prepare for my day and get mentally prepped for whatever I have on the day’s agenda. I am for sure a morning person.

I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions:

Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan and Richard Branson of Virgin.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It’s a given that as a leader you need to set clear expectations and priorities for your team. But this is often not enough to ensure that the team is getting results in the most important areas of the business. One of my previous leaders really pushed the old adage of “you get what you inspect not what you expect.” I’ve used this simple advice over the years to keep myself and my teams focused on what really matters. We set up regular inspections and reviews of key projects or business metrics. Whatever we “inspect” on a regular basis naturally gets the attention required to ensure positive results.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?

Some advice for young people early in their careers: If you are working in a global industry and get a chance to work overseas, go for it. And if you are further along in your career, have children, and get an offer to take your family on an international assignment, even better! Getting global experience can be a real benefit to your career, and can be a positive, life-changing experience for your entire family, especially the kids.


The How I Work series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Every other Wednesday we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips, and tricks that keep them going. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Andy.

 

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