Servane Lessi is playing a key role in advancing electromobility. As head of the Electric Power Train department at Mercedes-Benz, she works with her developers on the drives for the electric vehicles of tomorrow. In her interview, the Frenchwoman tells us what matters in the drives of the future, how she came to Mercedes-Benz during her studies, and what the action hero MacGyver has to do with her career.
Ms. Lessi, you and your team are currently working on the electric drive for the new generation of the Mercedes-Benz EQ model family. What is particularly important to you?
When it comes to drive technology, we at Mercedes-Benz have very high standards, for example, when it comes to the so-called "smooth running". The powertrain of a luxury vehicle manufacturer like us must provide the occupants with the highest possible level of noise comfort in the interior. And the efficiency of our drives is also important. We want our vehicles to offer our customers the range they need. This can be achieved if we minimize the energy requirements of the drives.
What are the challenges in this?
Mercedes-Benz has stood for innovative drive technology since the invention of the automobile. That's why we can build on an incredibly broad base of expertise and experience within the company when developing our new electric drive. At the same time, a lot of what we do is completely new. The drive technologies we are developing for the vehicles in our new Mercedes-EQ model family is true pioneering work. That's what makes our job so exciting.
As head of the department, you contributed to the decision for the new electric drives and later helped build up the development department yourself. What does your team look like?
In the Electric Power Train department, I am responsible for five teams with a total of 50 employees - all top engineers. The team usually sits in an open-plan office, which allows us to work together very flexibly during the development. However, our colleagues are often out on the road for tests, testing our drives in action on the test stand or in the vehicle. Another important aspect is the close exchange with our colleagues in Sindelfingen, who develop the vehicles, and with the plants that produce the drives. In this way, we ensure that the different requirements are always taken into account.
These sound like exciting tasks. What makes Mercedes-Benz special for you as an employer?
We all share the same passion for technology here and the ambition to create something outstanding. I appreciate the many opportunities for development and the wide variety of tasks. Here, I had the chance to shape my own career path from the very beginning - starting when I joined as a trainee Later, I also had the opportunity to gain experience in hybrid development in the U.S...
... and then from 2011 to 2013 you were assistant to the management at Mercedes-AMG.
Yes. That was a really exciting time. At the time, Ola Källenius was in charge of the Mercedes high-performance division. I learned a lot about strategy, management and leadership. I still benefit from this as a manager today.
What is important to you in your work as a leader?
I attach great importance to team members knowing what contribution they are making. For me, that has something to do with appreciation. An open exchange is very important here. I start each day over "Morning Coffee" with my team leaders - we sit down, share ideas and discuss what's coming up. This includes taking the time to celebrate a success when we have achieved a goal together.
You have been involved with drive technology for almost your entire career. How did it actually come about?
That's right. What's interesting here is that I originally come from a completely different field. In my studies, I specialized in electronic power supply. Many of my fellow students now work for energy companies or municipal utilities. In 2003, I was given the opportunity to write my final thesis on the subject of fuel cells here at the company. That was my first contact with the automotive industry and I quickly became enthusiastic about the tasks the company offers for engineers. Mercedes-Benz was my "best fit" as employer from the very beginning. This is still the case today.
At Mercedes-Benz, I had the chance to shape my own career from the very beginning. My thesis here was my first contact with the automotive industry.
And why did you become an engineer?
I was a fan of the TV series MacGyver when I was young (laughs). MacGyver has always found a way out of critical situations with everyday things. I thought that was great. Fittingly, on my first day at university our Dean had this to say: "An engineer is someone who finds a solution to problems that you don't know if there are solutions to." The search for solutions is something that still inspires and drives me in my work today. I want to continue working to advance electromobility in the future. I want to play an active role in shaping this development and continue on our path toward efficient drive concepts.
One last personal question: If you could travel in time, where would you go?
I would stay here (laughs). I am exactly where I belong. Shaping the future today is much more exciting than experiencing it in advance or making up for the past.
Personal details: Servane Lessi (41) was born in France in the town of Longwy, right on the border with Belgium and Luxembourg. As the daughter of an Italian father and a French mother, she already felt like a true European as a child - and enjoyed the weekend trips to Belgium with her parents, where there was always chocolate, of course. In order to gain more experience and insights during her engineering studies at École Centrale de Paris, Servane Lessi decided to continue her studies in Germany. Here she graduated in 2003 with a dual engineering degree from the Technical University of Berlin. When Servane Lessi isn't working on the electric vehicles of tomorrow, she loves to find balance in her small urban garden. She can relax best when gardening in the flower beds among her rhododendrons and hostas.