On the Rise: Andrew Svenson
Chief Engineer Truck & Bus Tire Development | Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC | Age: 37
What was your first job in the industry?
My first job in the tire industry was as a junior engineer for Bridgestone immediately following my graduation from the University of Akron with my mechanical engineering degree. I was hired into the trade tire development group, where I worked on designing a wide variety of trade consumer tires, but with a focus on all season performance tires. As a young engineer it was exciting to get to design a product that virtually everyone depends upon in some capacity. I was fortunate enough to be involved in designing projects that resulted in getting two patents very early in my career. It was also a great group to get my start in the industry as I was exposed to tire dealers, media, and end users very early on at product launch events.
What attracted you to the industry?
Being born and raised in the Akron, Ohio, area, I had exposure to the industry my entire life. My grandfather was an engineer in manufacturing for BFGoodrich, but based on his advice I wasn't convinced the tire industry was for me. I knew I wanted a career in the automotive industry in some way, so I became involved with the Formula SAE program at the University of Akron where students design a racecar to compete against other schools. Being in Goodyear's back yard, they supported us tremendously through a sponsorship that included free tires, time on their test track, and tips from their engineers covering everything from driving to design, and for the first time I could see myself in the tire industry. In my final year at school, I was the president of the student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and went to Bridgestone's Americas Technical Center in Akron to pitch a sponsorship opportunity. This led to a tour of their Akron facilities where I learned a lot more about the company and what an engineer in a tire company really did. I left these meetings impressed with what I saw at Bridgestone and subsequently applied for a job there several months later.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
The biggest challenge that I have faced in my career was moving from an engineer to a manager of engineers. Like many engineers, I had always enjoyed being in control of the details of my projects, knowing that I would be able to find success. When I became a section manager, I had to learn to trust others as it was no longer possible for me to do and know everything on all of the projects that my group was responsible for, especially since my prior experience as a tire engineer was in trade and OE consumer tire development, and I became a section manager in truck and bus commercial tire development. Not being an expert in the details I believe actually helped me to become a better manager quicker, as it forced me to rely on others and avoid falling into the micromanaging trap that often happens with first time managers. Fortunately, I had a great team under me who deserve credit for helping me successfully make the transition into management.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
I have been fortunate enough to work for many great managers in my time with Bridgestone and have also had a number of mentors as well. I have learned a tremendous amount from all of them, and have greatly appreciated those who have championed me as my career has progressed.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
My biggest accomplishment is seeing any product that I was involved with developing performing well. As an engineer, nothing is more satisfying than talking with someone who is using a product you were involved with designing and finding out their expectations were exceeded.
How do you spend your work day?
I am responsible for managing truck and bus tire development for the Americas. I spend most of my day interacting with engineering, product planning, manufacturing, procurement, sales, supply planning and others to insure we are developing high quality tires that meet the demands of our customers.
What keeps you up at night?
I sleep pretty soundly, but my I am always concerned when a customer has a negative experience, and immediately start thinking about what we can be doing to continuously improve our product.
Early bird or night owl?
Messy or neat freak?
I like to maintain an organized mess.
Growing up, what was your dream job?
I always wanted something in the automotive industry, with the auto racing side of things being my highest interest. However, now that I have kids, the travel and weekend work is not something that I would want to do at this stage of my life.
Tell us about your family.
I have an amazing wife who has a doctorate in psychology and is a professor at a university. I also have two wonderful kids, a son who is 6 and a daughter who is 4.
Describe your first car and what you loved most about it.
My first car was a 1991 Mercury Sable. The thing I liked most about it was that it was free — a gift from my uncle.
What advice would you give your high school self?
Just to enjoy life as it comes. There are things I miss about high school There are things I miss about college. There are things I miss from when I was single. There are things I miss from when I was married before I had kids, and there are things I miss about when I was an engineer before entering management. However, I am very happy with my life now. Enjoy what you have when you have it, because inevitably things will change and you will never be able to go back.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Alan Kulwicki, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for and was a childhood hero of mine. He broke the mold for what a successful stock car driver was in the early ‘90’s, especially since he was a degreed mechanical engineer and was not afraid of doing thing his own way.
Best way to spend a Saturday night:
Doing anything with my family, does not really matter what it is.
What song do you crank up loud and always sing along to?
What habit do you wish you could break?
I think I pay way too much attention to my smart phone. They are great for productivity, but also provide a lot of distraction. They also make it very difficult to unplug from work when you are not in the office.
What’s your secret superpower?
What game show would you most likely win?
I’ve never really watched game shows, other than the Price is Right at lunch in the summers back when I was a kid. I always wanted to play Plinko, not that there’s any skill involved with it.
If we gave you $1,000 and one hour, how would you spend the money?
A new set of wheels mounted with Blizzak snow tires for my car (I’d have to cover some cost out of pocket on that one.)
How should the tire industry attract and retain more young talent?
In my area on the tire design side of the industry we need to better educate young talent of just how much technology is involved in what many perceive to be a simple product. Also, creating a collaborative work environment is critical to the next generation, in addition to making sure that policies are in place to insure a good work/life balance.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I hope to be still working for Bridgestone and be in a position where I can maximize my influence within the company, whether that is on the technical side or on the corporate side.
What’s the biggest issue facing the tire industry?
We are right now on the cusp of having a multitude of changes in the industry, with electric and autonomous vehicles on the horizon. We are becoming a much more connected society that is more likely to pool and share resources, including cars. We need to make sure the tire and how we do business is evolving to keep pace with all of these changes.
If you could spend a day supporting a charity, what would you do?
Bridgestone’s Technical Center in Akron is a big supporter of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and after seeing first hand all the good work they do to help feed the needy in the community — plus seeing a lot of food that would have otherwise been thrown away put to good use — I could not think of a better organization to support.
If you could start a new career tomorrow, what would it be?
This is a tough question since I am in the career I have always wanted. The business side of the retail/wholesale world has always been interesting to me though, so if I had to pick something, that would be it.