“Small Steps Are Faster”

At home Hauke Stars writes programs with her children. For the fun of it. As a member of Volkswagen AG’s Management Board, she is advancing the Group’s digital transformation. “In agile cycles,” she says.


Hauke Stars joined the Volkswagen AG Management Board in February 2022. She is in charge of all Group activities in IT, data, organizational development, and process management. Porsche Consulting/Max Arens

The Volkswagen AG is tackling the enormous challenge of mastering the IT age. And you, Ms. Stars, are the Management Board member in charge of IT and therefore also of the Group’s digital transformation. How does one handle such a challenging task?

When I came to Volk­swa­gen in 2022, I start­ed by giv­ing myself three months to gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the com­pa­ny and its struc­tures. It was quick­ly clear to me that the Volk­swa­gen AG has many strengths. First and fore­most, we have strong brands, out­stand­ing prod­ucts, and superbly moti­vat­ed employ­ees. One big chal­lenge for dig­i­tal­iza­tion, how­ev­er, has to do with how a com­pa­ny works. Volk­swa­gen is in the midst of trans­form­ing itself into a soft­ware-ori­ent­ed mobil­i­ty provider. Our basis had thus far con­sist­ed of devel­op­ing hard­ware, which is asso­ci­at­ed with long devel­op­ment cycles. That means set­ting a final result and work­ing to achieve pre­cise­ly that result over a long peri­od of time. Soft­ware, how­ev­er, and ulti­mate­ly dig­i­tal­iza­tion itself, func­tion dif­fer­ent­ly. It’s cru­cial to under­stand the archi­tec­ture and define the goal. Then to devel­op in short, agile cycles. Results come all the time. Right now we’re in this phase of chang­ing how we think. 

Does that mean software used to be developed like new car models?

Our company’s IT sys­tems show an increase in com­plex­i­ty over time. So right in the first year, we took on the most impor­tant dig­i­tal­iza­tion projects under­way. Some of them were sched­uled to run for sev­er­al years. Because speed is one of the keys to suc­cess in IT, we start­ed slic­ing up the projects in order to give our busi­ness a series of mea­sur­able results. That fos­ters a new type of flex­i­bil­i­ty. At the same time, we’re struc­tur­ing our­selves more effec­tive­ly as an IT orga­ni­za­tion, pick­ing up our pace, look­ing for syn­er­gies, and reduc­ing bureaucracy.

Did we understand you correctly to say you’re trying to keep the steps of the transformation small?

Many small steps advance us faster than one big leap. If for no other rea­son than to exam­ine our progress and make short-term adjustments. 

So no more Big Bang?

It’s bet­ter to move for­ward in agile cycles. We learn faster, and if need­ed can also mod­i­fy our course at short notice.

Do you think Volkswagen can become one of the leading players in IT?

We’re con­cen­trat­ing on deliv­er­ing. And we’re get­ting bet­ter at it all the time. Here’s one exam­ple: togeth­er with Gun­nar Kil­ian, our Man­age­ment Board mem­ber in charge of Human Resources, we’re intro­duc­ing the “Hello Suc­cess” HR soft­ware world­wide. We’ve set an indus­try bench­mark here. Other com­pa­nies are con­tact­ing us to see how we’re man­ag­ing skills and roles at the com­pa­ny and sup­port­ing employ­ee devel­op­ment on the IT side. 

Hauke Stars and Federico Magno, Executive Director Mobility at Porsche Consulting, hold an exclusive interview for Porsche Consulting Magazine at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant. Porsche Consulting/Max Arens

You studied computer science at the University of Magdeburg. That was unusual for a young woman even in the 1990s. What sparked your interest in that area?

IT was still a new field at the time. And I’m pas­sion­ate­ly inter­est­ed in MINT sub­jects. I’ve always loved them. They’re also the way of the future. 

IT wasn’t a career move for you?

It was a deci­sion of the heart. I grew up in what was East Ger­many. I had the impres­sion that com­put­er sci­ence would give me a lot of options. That was the best deci­sion I could have made.

Can you write programs?

Sure, and some­times I do that with my chil­dren. We use Scratch and Python. In our home I’m the expert in those languages…

There’s a certain pride in your voice…

(laughs) That’s true. When my kids pro­gram some­thing and it doesn’t work, they ask me to take a look. And we go through it step by step and I explain where the pro­gram might be stuck in an infi­nite loop. Here, too, a lot of small steps are what lead to a big success.

You’ve worked at a veritable who’s who of German companies: Bertelsmann, Thyssen-Krupp, the German stock exchange, now Volkswagen — and Hewlett-Packard was in there too. A storybook career trajectory. Was that planned?

Some of it was planned, and some was sim­ply chance. For me, what’s impor­tant is to work in an inter­est­ing envi­ron­ment. That sus­tains, inspires, and chal­lenges me. When Volk­swa­gen approached me, my first thought was, ‘What can I con­tribute?’ Then I looked at the strat­e­gy and thought, ‘Wow, this will be a huge trans­for­ma­tion to elec­tric mobil­i­ty, greater sus­tain­abil­i­ty, and soft­ware and data-dri­ven prod­ucts. That’s excit­ing!’ I want­ed to be a part of it. 

Germany’s automotive industry needs less ‘petrol in its veins’ and more data. But not everyone might agree. Was it hard to make the move there as a woman without an automotive background?

Volk­swa­gen wel­comed me very warm­ly. We all under­stand that dig­i­tal­iza­tion is a major fac­tor in suc­cess when it comes to enhanc­ing speed, qual­i­ty, and effi­cien­cy. Pre­cise­ly that is what I’m focus­ing on, togeth­er with my team.

Do you view yourself more as a strategist or a technician?

I always keep my eye on the big pic­ture. That’s my job. But when need­ed, I get into the tech­ni­cal details too. I sit down with my teams and we work togeth­er to find solu­tions. Suc­cess is ulti­mate­ly always a mat­ter of teamwork. 

Do you take these deep dives on a regular basis?

I do. It’s very impor­tant. You can’t lead a big IT orga­ni­za­tion if you don’t want to get into the finer details and tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions yourself.

“You can’t lead a big IT organization if you don’t want to get into the finer details and technical discussions yourself,” says Hauke Stars, Volkswagen AG Management Board member in charge of IT. Porsche Consulting/Max Arens

Do your employees occasionally try to test you?

Sure, that hap­pens. But I’m up for it. It’s a chal­lenge I want to have. 

How exactly does an IT director work — in an office with augmented reality and supercomputers?

We have both of those at Volk­swa­gen, of course, but my lap­top and iPad are more impor­tant to me. I carry them around all the time (laughs).

You don’t have a magic bullet, or AI, or something to assist you?

Not yet. Recent­ly I looked at the lat­est meta­verse devices, which can show faces extreme­ly real­is­ti­cal­ly. That’s impres­sive. But I don’t see us using this tech­nol­o­gy just yet on a day-to-day basis.

Why not?

You have to keep your eye on the goal. Small light­house projects and gad­gets are great, but over­all we have to become faster and more effi­cient, uti­lize syn­er­gies, and add con­crete value to the busi­ness. In short, we have to achieve the best results for our company. 

How does AI help with these tasks? Companies like OpenAI are revolutionary and disruptive. How can an automotive group with around 670,000 employees keep up here?

AI is already help­ing us in very con­crete terms to lower costs, fur­ther opti­mize our ener­gy and mate­r­i­al use, and improve every­day rou­tines for many of our employ­ees. It has enor­mous poten­tial, but doesn’t work every­where. That’s why we’re apply­ing a clear strat­e­gy to the use of AI. 

Porsche Consulting visits Wolfsburg: Hauke Stars hosts Executive Director Federico Magno (left) and Jan Boris Wintzenburg, Director Communications and Marketing. Porsche Consulting/Max Arens

Employee representatives often assume that expanding IT necessarily means cutting jobs, because computers will take over what people do. Is that true?

This effect hasn’t shown itself since com­put­ers were intro­duced to com­pa­nies. But we take these con­cerns seri­ous­ly. It’s impor­tant to have our peo­ple on board and informed, and to be trans­par­ent. That’s why we’ve launched a Group-wide ini­tia­tive called “You and AI.” We want to pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion about AI to our employ­ees, increase tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, illus­trate prac­ti­cal exam­ples, pro­vide train­ing and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties — and, above all, to demon­strate this technology’s oppor­tu­ni­ties and poten­tial to every­one. Despite all the excite­ment, AI tech­nol­o­gy is not an end in itself. It can­not replace our employ­ees’ joy in inno­va­tion, their pow­ers of dis­cern­ment, or their deci­sion-mak­ing abilities. 

So is AI a game changer for Volkswagen or not?

We’ve already suc­cess­ful­ly intro­duced a large num­ber of AI solu­tions. Hun­dreds of data and AI appli­ca­tions are already pro­duc­tive for the com­pa­ny, or about to be. And the pace is real­ly quick there! I’d be care­ful with the game-chang­er notion, though. Here, too, it’s bet­ter to pro­ceed step by step. 

And finally: If you had three wishes for Volkswagen, what would they be?

… that we move for­ward strong­ly with dig­i­tal­iza­tion. That we con­tin­ue to cut back on bureau­cra­cy. And that we look to the future — that we move into the future with courage and resolve.

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