Commentary & Insights
The Head of Auto Industry Innovation and Transformation, Mobility & Connected at Capgemini Invent The Foundations "When I was 5 years old, I built Lego towers representing the General Motors headquarters." Dennis' father inspired him to get into the industry, to fall in love with the industry he would be professionally involved in for 30-plus years; "I dreamt that someday I would be the CEO of General Motors. My father worked 40-plus years at General Motors in the Union. So he ended up being Vice President of the UAW and helped create the Saturn brand and all the new business models that came with that." Dennis Ephlin: People always say, Oh, you're in the automotive industry. You're a car guy. I'm really not a car guy. I'm an industry guy. I love the industry and what it is, and I believe in what we are becoming. So I joined General Motors out of college and worked on consumer relations, a 1800 line, talking to a lot of senior citizens who drove 1980s Cadillacs. I worked with dealers to get them the right repair, goodwill, out-of-warranty expense cleared, and so forth, and I worked my way through General Motors for a while. In my last role there, I worked with several consultants from different companies, including McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and others, on the future of luxury and automotive, not just cars but of luxury. As a young brand manager, I found myself feeding these consultants a lot of great ideas that they then put into fancy slides and use them to convince my upper-level management how brilliant they were. They enticed me to hop over the fence into consulting, Dennis has been in the industry for over thirty years. "I've worked in every part. I've worked in a plant. I've worked globally. I've worked in a dealership. I've worked in headquarters, doing all kinds of things from sales, marketing, incentives, distribution, business planning, etc." Dennis shares. Twenty of those years were spent working in both digital agencies and consulting. Dennis Ephlin: The five-year-old me, all the way up to today, wants the same thing: to have impacted our industry in some way. I hope to touch and impact the industry for the better because I love the industry. It's been such a part of my life, my family. It's great because the client changes daily, and the opportunity and challenge change alongside them. The Wins Obviously, I'm not the CEO of General Motors. And I don't know that I would want to be. The experiences I've had have been varying and all so different. I think I've made many personal accomplishments, but to me, the greatest ones are team achievements. Being recognized in the industry as having a good, provocative point of view, somebody that is connected and networked together, good people that I can call on as well. That, to me, is success: having a good professional and personal career amongst a community of other passionate folks. I love being associated with that. Dennis shares the scale of some of the projects he has led and, alongside his team, implemented for their clients. "When all those people's lives come together at that moment to work as a team with the client to do something impactful, that is the true value and accomplishment." Winning a project that impacts the industry as a whole and then going on to manage the execution of that for the next five years seems to be incredibly rewarding for Dennis. "I get phone calls every day, asking for advice or counsel; being a trusted advisor to a client is a pinnacle of accomplishment," after over thirty years of working to enhance the industry through relationships, Dennis has certainly established himself in our industry and community. The Future “Technology plays a role, but technology's not the answer. “ Dennis Ephlin: The future will be a human-centered, people-centric, relationship-building. A personalized mission that we need to continue to drive towards, or we lose. Our industry has always been transactional. The OEM rings the register and puts on the accounting books a sale and profit the second they push the car off the factory, and it's then on the dealer's books. The dealer puts it on the books as soon as they sell to the customer: it is all very transactional. “It all comes down to the retail experience and retail operation; all the parts are working together to create a true experience.” Millennials would rather go to a dentist than a dealer. Hopefully, before I'm done, and many of us who I know in this industry are done and retire off to Florida, we will change that perception. That's what gets me up in the morning and gets me excited. A major focus area of mine is how we make that whole process better, more efficient, more experiential, and something people enjoy. So that mission and the way we measure success in the industry has to change. Otherwise, technology won't matter. It's about the people. It's about value. It's about success in an industry that becomes more personalized. Technology is an enabler, not the solution. We've now been through the waves of e-commerce and digitization and connected and IoT, and now Metaverse. Of course, those aren't solving anything. They're only perhaps enabling a better process or a better tool. But we still need the right strategy, the right go-to-market approach, the right value proposition, the right people and skills, and training. The size of the industry and how many people's lives it touches, and how interconnected it all is still amazes Dennis. "There's such an emotional attachment to our industry. It's such a massive industry in terms of volume and size, in terms of the global impact, but also in terms of touching people's lives". Dennis reflects on his time at IBM coupled with an amazing experience and Nordstroms, "we had a saying at IBM, the last best experience in any industry becomes the standard of every industry for that customer, which is true, and I hold the auto industry accountable to that of a Nordstroms experience." Dennis Ephlin: There are a lot of different industries that offer better quality products, better quality experiences, or much better processes and technology, and the challenge to innovate in a big industry like automotive or even automotive retail, in which everything is so ingrained, is still a challenge. I think we're on the cusp. We are headed through some decent transformation, and COVID certainly accelerated that. We will not see sales volumes as we saw three years ago because people will access vehicles differently. So there's a lot in favor of disruption and transformation, and the change has to happen. It's now upon us. The most surprising thing about the industry is how massive yet intimate it is. I focus on what the future experience could look like. What would the future value delivery look like? And if people can relate to that, I know we have a connection of the same goal, and we can work together to create the future of experience. Its a real story, a real dream, and a real drive. "I always could multitask and take on a lot of stuff at once," Dennis shares. He is part of the 4 am club but "don't get excited. I go to bed at 9 pm," he smiles. Dennis keeps the balance by managing team capabilities and client expectations and focuses on impacting and innovating in our industry. "I am an orchestrator," he explains. When asked about how he goes about this and how he manages his day, he smiles: "It's firefighting. It's drinking from a firehose. It's a lot of craziness. But, I love a chaotic day. There's so much opportunity within it."