Eric Lemaire: Geek to Global CEO

Eric Lemaire (CEO)
Eric Lemaire (CEO)

Exploring 35-Year Odyssey in Technology and Leadership Across Three Continents!

In a world filled with endless possibilities, what drives people to pursue careers in technology? The answer lies in a fundamental belief—a belief that people could do more, create more, and shape a better future through the transformative power of technology.

Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, revolutionizing the way we communicate, work, learn, and interact with the world around us. From smartphones and social media to artificial intelligence and renewable energy, the possibilities are boundless, limited only by our imagination and ingenuity.

Meet Eric Lemaire, the visionary CEO of EFI Automotive Accessories System Co. Ltd., whose journey through technology and team spirit has fueled a career spanning over three decades. From his early days tinkering with computers to leading a multinational corporation, his story is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance.

Hailing from France and with a career that has taken him across continents, Eric’s fascination with technology and science fiction started at a young age. A true pioneer, he was among the first generation of ‘Geeks,’ publishing software and building computers in the nascent days of the digital revolution. As the world embraced technology, he recognized the importance of teamwork and collaboration, qualities he learned through his love for sports.

Transitioning from a technical role to management, Eric’s journey led him to diverse industries, from avionics to transportation manufacturing, before finding his home in the automotive sector. With stints at industry giants like Siemens VDO and Valeo, he honed his leadership skills and gained invaluable experience in navigating the complexities of the automotive landscape.

In 2022, Eric embarked on a new chapter as CEO, a role that brings together his passion for technology and his expertise in leadership. Leading a team in one of the most dynamic regions for automotive innovation, he is at the forefront of shaping the future of mobility.

As Eric continues to drive innovation and excellence in the automotive industry, his story serves as an inspiration for aspiring leaders and enthusiasts alike. With a relentless drive for progress and a commitment to teamwork, Eric epitomizes the spirit of innovation that propels the automotive industry forward.

Below are the interview highlights:

Can you please brief us about your company and its inception story?

EFI Automotive is a family-owned company that was established in 1936 in France with the very first products of electrical wires (“fil électrique” in French, inspiring its name) that were insulated with fabric for domestic lighting. Then EFI progressively directed its focus towards the automobile market, with the invention of the Bougicord® lighting cable launched in the early 1960s and then adapted to ignition wires. EFI Automotive has now progressively built up its capital of expertise in electrical connectors, cutting, coiling, electronics, etc. There are manufacturing sites worldwide: in France, Turkey, the USA, and China.

EFI specializes in the design and manufacture of sensors and actuators to improve powertrain and transmission efficiency, develop e-mobility, and improve vehicle dynamics. In these strategic areas, we provide our customers with local service and innovative solutions adapted to their needs. Our high-performance production tools and our R&D centers have made us a recognized operator in the automotive industry for the past 80+ years.

We entered China in 2004 and, since then, have had close ties with most OEMs and Tier 1 customers in China.

What values and principles do you prioritize in your leadership style, and how do they contribute to the success of your team and organization?

I act as a “leader” rather than a “boss.” I fully believe that teamwork is much stronger, and my task is to ensure this team spirit and to support it. I give credit and do not take it for myself. I rely on the people, empower them, and bring them to the next level.

Can you recall a specific challenge you faced as a business leader and how you navigated through it, showcasing your problem-solving and decision-making skills?

You can imagine that in the last 35 years, I have had to face many challenges. They are all different. Very often, the simplest solution is the best. You must know the context and then speak with data. You must analyze the context and think outside the box. Then finally make a decision: taking no decision or delaying too much is the worst you can do.

One of my challenges was when I arrived in China at the end of 2007 and wanted to show my company that business in China was possible and that we could get a good market share. Speaking with data, I spent many months visiting potential customers to understand the market and the customer’s needs, and I analyzed the competition. Based on this and the portfolio we had, I defined a business plan with clear customer targets. After visiting the targets and presenting our unique selling point, I negotiated, with the strong support of the team I built, the first business. We were successful, and in less than 2 years, we had the biggest market share in our domain.

How do you foster innovation and a culture of continuous improvement within your team or organization?

In our area, innovation and continuous improvement are a must if we want to stay alive. About continuous improvement, it’s clearly on everybody’s mind. Everybody in the EFI plant can make suggestions. We regularly analyze these suggestions, choose the best, and put them in place. All the people involved in the best ideas are recognized and receive a special bonus.

For innovation, a special team oversees this subject. Speaking with customers, university startups, and thinking “out of the box.” They list ideas, and then, after analyzing things like feasibility, business case, etc., we decide on which subjects we work on.

In your experience, what role does effective communication play in leadership, and how do you ensure clear communication across different levels of your organization?

Communication is a must in leadership. You can notice that many issues are coming from misunderstandings and, in the end, from bad communication.

Despite the fact that we are in a world of overcommunication with mail, chat, and tools, and with people spending more time looking at their phones instead of the people around them, the quality of communication is not better than before. I will say it’s even worse than before.

Depending on the subject, we must use the right way to communicate. Face-to-face and group meetings are very important and should remain.

We have defined an agenda of communication toward managers, teams, and all people. I’m making, for example, every 2 to 3 months an “All Hands Meeting” to explain to all the employees: where we are, our successes, our failures, and where we are going.

What strategies do you employ to build and maintain a motivated and high-performing team?

Motivating and maintaining the people, especially in China, is a very important task. In China, finding a job is not so difficult. In addition, in our very competitive market, headhunters and companies are always searching for resources.

So we’ve put different things in place. First of all, show a career path to the people and support them with training, support, and mentoring to follow these paths. Here again, communication is very important, and we review regularly with all the employees their status and whether it fits their expectations.

We are also using different tools, such as “long-term agreements,” to keep the people.

And finally, we recognize the effort and the results of the people.

People being recognized, seeing where they could be in the future, and seeing that they are supported have no reason to leave. We are a family company; we act as a family.

Can you share an example of a significant business decision you made that had a positive impact on both your organization and its stakeholders?

It’s difficult to disclose such information with details.

In the past, I had to make the difficult decision to move development from one country to another one called “Best Cost Country,” knowing that it’d be a small “revolution.”

Convincing people was really a challenge. After moving step by step and showing the results, people started to acknowledge the choice.

Today, this business is a clear success, and solutions are provided worldwide.

As a business leader, how do you stay updated on industry trends and emerging technologies, and how do you incorporate this knowledge into your strategic planning?

Listening and communicating are the keywords again. We have a marketing team that is analyzing the different publications. We are participating in the most important events: sometimes only listening, sometimes making presentations, or having a booth. And we are visiting start-ups, having a look at other industries, and discussing them with universities.

What advice would you give to aspiring business leaders looking to make a meaningful impact in their respective industries?

Act as a leader (not a “boss”); Be a role model; think outside the box; present a plan with a mid-and long-term view; and embark your team on the journey.

Beyond your professional achievements, can you share a personal philosophy or belief that has guided you throughout your career and life?

One of my personal philosophies is making people happy to get the best of them, and for them to be at the edge, then, as a team, we can win everything.