José María Galofré Ragel never aspired to work for an automaker – even though he founded a firm serving the automotive industry – figuring most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were not places for people wanting to push for change and challenge the limits with innovation.
"At that time, I thought that those big multinationals, those big OEMs, were not really putting all the focus in innovation, creativity, or in changing things to be more focused on customers and the relationships with the partners, with dealers," Galofré recalls in an interview with The CEO Magazine.
But Galofré said ‘yes’ to Volvo in 1999, accepting an offer to become Commercial Manager of Volvo Car España – the Spanish subsidiary of the Swedish automaker famed for innovation, safety and state-of-the-art technology.
He advanced to Managing Director and CEO in 2005, where he has put a focus on the customer, sought diverse viewpoints from inside the company and with its stakeholders, and challenged staff to become agents of change.
"Volvo was a big surprise," Galofré says. "They were very transparent and honest with me and said, ‘José María, it’s fine if you want to change the company’.
"I felt at that time that Volvo was telling me, ‘We trust you. You can change things. You don’t need to feel that you are a public worker with so many restrictions around you. You want to try? Try.’"
An unconventional approach
Galofré has pursued an unconventional path during his 30-year career in the automotive industry. He has always pushed innovation, too. His approach was not always popular with the big automakers when he started his career in the early 1990s, but it’s proved effective, and he’s left a mark on the industry in Europe.
His path to the top ranks of the automotive industry started somewhat conventionally, completing degrees in Industrial Engineering and Industrial Organization. But he complemented those degrees by pursuing a Master in Environmental Management – at a time when issues such as decarbonization and transitioning to renewable energy sources were not top of mind for automakers.
"I always try to define myself as an engineer, as a humanist. I’m interested in many different areas. I’m interested in history, I’m interested in anthropology, biology, science," Galofré says.
"In the different jobs that I’ve had, I always try to be curious and to improve things. I’m a very innovative and creative person."
Regarding his studies in environmental management, he says, "In the late 80s, it was perhaps a sign for me because now I’m in a company that really cares for the atmosphere and cares about sustainability."
After finishing his studies, Galofré started working the family firm, which handled industrial boilers. He recalls telling his brother at the time that he wasn’t especially fond of working for industrial companies and wanted to gain experience on the commercial side of things.
He subsequently joined a group of Spanish auto dealers, then founded the company, EurotaxGlass’s (now Autovista Group), in 1992. The firm provides statistics for the automotive industry and still operates to this day.
A synchronized team
When Volvo came calling in 1999, he was ready for the challenge, seeing the company as a place to implement his visions of change and sharing his environmental commitment.
"It’s part of being human: we need to change things. We need to be creative," Galofré says. "You will spend a good part of your life in a company, so it has to be challenging."
Part of the change that he initially pursued was organizational. He says of his early aims, "The objective was to have the ability to have all the departments working together, to be synchronized."
We have to work together as a simple team. We have to be really coordinated and synchronized and everyone has to feel that the targets of the company belong to all of us.
He speaks passionately of a management approach known as LEAN Methodology, which was pioneered in international development for facilitating a better understanding between all actors in value chains.
"I think it’s the way to secure that the whole organization is synchronized and the whole organization is oriented not only to improve results, but to follow data, information," Galofré says, referring to the principles of Six Sigma.
He expands on the benefits of the approach, explaining, "We have to work together as a simple team. We have to be really coordinated and synchronized and everyone has to feel that the targets of the company belong to all of us."
In it together
Data is paramount for affecting change, according to Galofré. It’s a message he shares with university students – who invite him to accompany their graduating class as a "padrino" (godparent) – as they enter the workforce.
"If you don’t have real information, don’t touch things, don’t change things," he says.
"You have to change every single organization you work in as per the concept of Kaizen. It doesn’t matter if you have the power or not. If you have the right data, the right argument, you can change things."
Galofré is also a big believer in the maxim, "All the people all the time" – an expression of the collaborative culture at Volvo.
"We don’t have our own targets at Volvo Car España," he says as an example of this collaboration. "We are aligned with the global strategy of our company. We have a global strategy."
That global strategy incorporates values and ideals such as sustainable mobility, combating climate change and overhauling the concept of customer service, he says. The collaborative culture at Volvo Car España incorporates the perspectives of stakeholders such as dealers and suppliers.
"When we make decisions, I invite the dealers, I invite my employees, I invite all the stakeholders to be part of the programs, to be part of the design. Because that’s the only way to convince them to all be in the same boat.
"I never complain about our colleagues in the headquarter or those crazy guys from the factories. We are all in it together."
A single voice
One of Galofré’s initiatives has been constant contact with customers, but in a streamlined way, which saves them time and shows a proactive approach to service and preventing potential problems.
Through the collection of data and use of apps, Volvo can advise customers of the need for maintenance and quickly schedule digital online appointments.
A key part of the approach is to have only a single voice and direct contact for Volvo and its customers – a break from the traditional model of dealers tending to their own customers and the manufacturer mostly staying on the sidelines.
Volvo is so special because the founders of this company set a purpose that we had to care about people because the people were in the cars.
That decision was made with input from all stakeholders, including dealers, and focused exclusively on the needs of customers.
"We have had more than 70,000 conversations with our customers because we made the decision with our dealers that we would have only one voice to our customers," he says.
Dealers, he recalls, would tell him, "If I sold the car, the customer belongs to me," to which he would respond, "I’m sorry. Just put yourself in the shoes of a customer". Volvo has full digital and physical integration in Spain with its dealers, he adds.
Volvo dealers in Spain appear happy with the ‘one voice’ strategy. In surveys of Spanish auto dealers over the past five years, Volvo has won four gold medals in the category of dealers’ relationships with automakers.
"It’s not only that they are earning money," Galofré says. "It’s also that they feel they’re part of Volvo. Because we always consider and respect them. As I said, they must be involved with every single idea."
In the different jobs that I’ve had, I always try to be curious and to improve things.
The relationship with its stakeholders and customers differentiates Volvo from other automakers. So does its focus on the environment. Volvo has set ambitious climate targets, including a 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 and being carbon neutral by 2040.
"Volvo is so special because the founders of this company set a purpose that we had to care about people because the people were in the cars," he says. "Today, we understand that that mission was to care about all people – driver, passengers and pedestrians – as well as our common home, the planet.
"I’m really motivated to be part of Volvo because we feel that we are leaders and pioneers in this new sustainable mobility."