What happen when a billion dollar company puts money on a trendy thing unenthusiastically?
I worked for a publicly traded company for last three years. Let’s keep the name secret and call them ComZ. I am trying to understand their motivation and if they were ever serious about the bet. I will take an example of electrification team, since I was part of the team.
Did they put any serious money on the table?
In my opinion, NO. ComZ sells $2.1B worth product each year. Approximately 55% of them comes from a super stable and barely growing market- commercial aircrafts. The story of putting money in electrification is to get on the EV train. EV market is growing since 2017 and the automotive market is changing its face forever. So how much ComZ put forth for the project? From 2017–2021, less than $5M cumulatively. For a $2B+ revenue company which has 40% gross profit and a high growth market potential, first three year’s investment is peanuts and looks like a joke.
The leadership were the weakest link of the team. Most of the technical resources were top notch without proper direction and planning. The team was not supported well by engineering/ R&D and in most cases it was a street fight to access resources.
Most probably it was the worst part of the team. The business leadership has no clue whatsoever-about what to do, customer needs and product-market fit. It stated with a top down thought and they tried find a problem with a solution that they already have. The value proposition was weak and the execution was weaker. The executives invested a large sum on a sub project without proper understanding of why they were doing what. It backfired and they closed down the sub project. There were not any real strategy and any real deep thought on why to do what. The commercial manager was the worst I have ever seen or worked with.
The team didn’t have any synergy or even empathy for each other. The automotive team was not involved for the growth kn their turf — ”EV”. The team always political and backbiting internally for no reasons. Some of the R&D engineers were super uninterested to even work on the project. I believe management thought they can ask anyone to do anything since they pay the bills. But it doesn’t happen this way. You have to inspire people to do something and money is only part of motivation. I believe the blame for non-synergy of the team goes to the overall team leadership.
Now, was there a real chance?
Yes. Not to the scale to those executives were pushing for. They wanted to take a EV customer motor line which would provide revenue of $50–100M a year. The thing they didn’t consider well- this product would increase the bottom line cost by 20x, which is improbable to get automotive scale. Second, the product contains a critical element Cobalt, and every auto company is trying to get rid of Cobalt from battery and other parts. For mass scale EV, it’s never going to happen. It can and will happen for electric aircrafts. Electric aircrafts will be a regular thing by 2030 and ComZ can easily use its brand and strong presence in aerospace to grow into that market. They could have planned for contingency with race car, high end exotic cars and small volume productions. Most importantly, it should have been a push for part production for aerospace instead of material push for EV. Part production would provide a revenue growth of $7–15M in 2–3 years. Meanwhile they would get race car/exotic car business of $5–10M. A growth of $12–25M in 3–4 years is not a bad story to bring additional investment such as buying a small company to scale for aerospace electrification which would be $50–10 opportunity in long term. They still have these opportunities but I fear that they would miss al of these because of bad/no strategy and extremely poor execution.