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Emerging Automotive Professional: HELLA’s Vikram Rao

Connect with Vikram on LinkedIn.


Getting into Auto 

What inspired you to go into the automotive and mobility field?   

I was interested in machines and mechanisms from a very young age. The biggest piece of machinery when I was young was my dad’s motorcycle.

Did you grow up with family members in the automotive industry?   

None.

What interests led you to consider a career in automotive?   

Automobiles have always fascinated me. I always saw them as complex piece of machinery that people rely on for their day-to-day needs. I wanted to partake in the process of making them more customer-centric and accessible.

When were you first exposed to automotive?   

When I was about 3 years old, my parents gifted me a tricycle and I was hooked. I used to spend the majority of the day riding it.

Growing up, what was your impression of the automotive industry? How would you have described the industry?   

I thought the auto industry was just research – people in white coats, in the lab, building things. In reality, it’s a lot different. It’s just common people collaborating to make things happen on time (almost).

What college did you attend, what was your major, and why did you choose that path?   

I attended the Dayananda Sagar College of Engineering (affiliated to VTU) in Bangalore, India. My major was Mechanical Engineering, and it was the closest to Automobile Engineering. I wanted to get into the auto industry, and this was the best way to do it.

Do you have additional degrees, training, or education? (I.e., graduate degree, MBA, etc.)    

I have a Master’s in Automotive Systems Engineering from UofM Dearborn.

What opportunities did you have in college that allowed you to explore or start your career in automotive, including any co-ops or internships?   

  • An internship at a Hyundai Service station helped me get hands-on training and taught the basics of automotive maintenance and servicing.
  • My internship at Ashok Leyland (well-known Commercial trucks manufacturer in India) helped me understand the basics of manufacturing processes.
  • SAE BAJA was an event where we had to build an ATV and participate in an endurance race. This helped me understand the fundamentals of vehicle building and planning.
  • FSAE is a complex version of BAJA. This was purely electric. I was less afraid of EVs after this!

Automotive Career: Then and Now 

What was your first job post-college? Please share any lessons learned.    

I was a design engineer for a rather complex project. It was a fair balance of designing, testing prototypes in the lab, breaking and building things. I had a lot to learn in terms of communication, dealing with tough situations, etc.

How did you transition from your first job to where you are now? What roles did you hold along the way? What projects or opportunities were critical in this process?   

I have been lucky to have had three different types of roles in three companies on two continents. I try to take up different roles to be well rounded and learn various skills in the process. This also prevents me from being bored. Jack of many trades, master of none.

Have you made any major career changes? If so, please explain your thoughts and reasoning.   

I have mostly stuck to engineering so far. Like mentioned previously, I have had three different positions and they have all taught me different things. I don’t think it’s a major career change though. For the most part I have stuck to automotive.

What is your role now?   

Quality Development Lead.

What projects and programs do you work on?   

Mostly on electronic components for different OEMs.

Describe a typical day.   

Mostly running from one meeting to another. Collaborating with team members and chalking out a plan to get tasks done, which sometimes means blocking my calendar to avoid additional meetings to get my job done.

Where do you see yourself in five years?   

I would like to continue to expand my horizons by taking up different roles and see how far I can go.


Advice for Young Students 

Knowing what you know now, if you could give your younger self one tip or piece of advice, what would it be?   

Never be afraid to try new things. It’s better to fail now than later. Be the hardest working person in the room.

What advice do you have for high school students who are interested in automotive, but unsure if it’s the career for them?  

As automobiles get more and more complex, there is scope for everyone to make a difference.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?   

Take more chances when you can. A senior engineer who was on the verge or retirement was unhappy that he couldn’t take too many risks in his career due to personal reasons. He didn’t think of it much back then, but he thought differently when we spoke. We can all think of many such situations. Make conscious efforts to make the best out of your career.

What do you love about working in the automotive industry (and specifically the automotive industry in Michigan)?  

We are experiencing a revolution in the EV world much like the internet boom in the 1990s. This is a great time to be a part of the future. Michigan is the best place to be as Big Three are heavily invested in mobility, electrification, etc.

Do you participate in any organizations outside of work? Or have any hobbies (unrelated to automotive)?  

I used to volunteer at an animal shelter. I also take part in motorcycle track days. My job offers me a good balance. Having a good team and manager helps greatly in this regard.