The pandemic was a huge test for Aptiv, a company named one of the world’s most ethical corporations for nine years running. But almost 12 months since the emergence of Covid-19, chief executive and president, Kevin Clark, says the company’s values saw the business through.
“I actually think our values and the behaviours that we expected from our employees encompassed everything that we needed to do to make it through the pandemic,” Clark says in an exclusive interview for the latest Board Agenda podcast.
It may come as no surprise for close observers of Aptiv and its development. Makers of safety systems for the automotive industry, Aptiv has built its reputation on being one of the most ethical and sustainable companies in operation today. With a $14bn turnover, a workforce of 160,000 people and operations in 44 countries and 128 manufacturing facilities, that looks like a tall order.
For Clark, though, sustainability and ethics are at the heart of the Aptiv way of building a product portfolio aimed at “making the world safer, greener more connected and enabling the future of mobility”.
According to Clark: ”It’s what we get up in the morning to do; it’s the innovation we drive; it’s the solutions we provide our customers.”
For a western company Aptiv had an early introduction to the pandemic. With 20,000 workers in China it was forced to shut down operations in January 2020 as the extent of the pandemic became clear. There then followed the creation of a crisis management team with representatives from across the business and multiple meetings each day.
The approach, Clark says, reflected the company’s value and its focus on keeping its people safe. Company ethics, he says, are encapsulated in a single phrase: “Do the right thing, the right way”.
“Which means acting, as you might imagine, ethically and with integrity,” says Clark, “in everything we do; from how we manage our suppliers and their suppliers; to how we manage our organisation and resources; to how we interact with our customers and government officials in all the places we operate across the globe; to how we design and manufacture our products.”
‘A very valuable resource’
One reason Aptiv may have coped better than others is the quality of its board–management relationship. Clark himself has said in the past that alignment between the two groups is “critical” to success. This was especially so during the crisis.
“We over-communicate to the board,” says Clark. “We made sure that as a management team we were very transparent about what our strategy was and how we are doing relative to that strategy.”
The regular board meetings take place, he adds. “But I think we go above and beyond because our management team … really views the board as a very, very valuable resource that we engage outside of the five board meetings that we have each year.”
Lessons have been learned from the pandemic and are now being used in other areas. Clark says Aptiv is currently applying this experience to address a shortage of semiconductor parts. “We basically duplicated what we had done from a crisis management situation with Covid.”
He adds: “We’re making sure we’re sharing the learnings. It’s the power of communication and it’s the power of shared alignment. And it’s proof of what we can do when we have a sense of urgency and when we have a single purpose.”