From the digital experience in the vehicle to high-tech infrastructure for e-mobility and self-driving cars: Benjamin Brügel looks five to ten years into the future. As Head of Innovation Management Marketing & Sales at Mercedes-Benz, he identifies technologies and business models that will tremendously change the mobility of tomorrow. Benjamin Brügel began his career at the Mercedes-Benz Group plant in Rastatt - as an automotive electrics apprentice. In his interview, Benjamin Brügel tells us why he decided to do an apprenticeship at Mercedes-Benz, how he experienced his first day at work and how his career path led him to innovation management.
Mr Brügel, today you are shaping the future of mobility as Head of Innovation Management. You started your career at the Mercedes-Benz Group in the training workshop. How did you get started back then?
I still remember my first day of training very well - it was very exciting. I used to commute by bus to the plant in Rastatt. And when I first arrived, I was totally impressed by the huge site. By chance I met two other new apprentices and we were so excited that we couldn't find the training workshop at first (laughs). When we finally got there, it was great to meet the instructors and the other apprentices. I immediately felt that I belonged. Feel free to call me Benjamin, by the way.
Thanks Benjamin. And how many colleagues did you start with?
In my year there were almost 70 apprentices - and then in the training workshop we worked in groups of six to eight. We were a great team right from the start. At the beginning, we had a get-to-know-each-other week in the Palatinate Forest, then later on we went on an exchange with the vocational training school to Vantaa in Finland. There we built a model truck as a project with the local apprentices, and lit it up with lights - that was a very nice international experience and bonded us even more as a group.
On the first day, we were so excited that we couldn't find the training workshop at first. When we finally arrived, I immediately felt that I belonged.
How did the training go after that?
In the first year we were in the training workshop and learned the basics, for example about metalworking. And of course it was interesting to get to know the rest of the plant: from the bodyshop to final assembly. From the second year onwards, we moved on to the specialist area we had chosen. For me it was vehicle electrics, which was simply what excited me the most.
What makes training at Mercedes-Benz special for you?
For me, the wide-ranging opportunities to learn and be creative during the apprenticeship, as well as the possibilities for further development after training, are outstanding here. I also learned that a lot can be achieved here with your own commitment and will. The master craftsmen and women helped me a lot, as did the supervisors who accompany the apprentices with genuine commitment and give them advice and practical support.
Following your apprenticeship, you then completed your vocational diploma and started studying ...
Yes, I was initially at the plant in Rastatt, in the chassis assembly area. It was great to work with so many experienced colleagues. It is really great that at Mercedes-Benz you have the possibility of going on with further training after your apprenticeship to become a master craftsman /woman or technician, for example. During a conversation, my former trainer suggested that I could start studying instead. So after getting my vocational diploma, I enrolled in the bachelor's degree programme in automotive engineering and service at the University of Applied Sciences in Esslingen. During my term breaks, I also worked in production. Later on, I went to the Global Service & Parts department at the Mercedes-Benz site in Böblingen for my practical internship.
And after your studies, you joined the Mercedes-Benz Group again.
Exactly, for my last period of theoretical study I was an exchange student in Shanghai, and was looking for an opportunity to write my thesis. I contacted a colleague, who had been my supervisor during my internship at Mercedes-Benz and he came up with a topic that suited me very well. Afterwards he made me an offer to stay in his team. Working together with these colleagues was just great, so I didn't have to think about it long and stayed (laughs).
Later you even did your Master's degree in General Management alongside your work ...
Oh yes, up until then my career had been very technical. And I realised that for many aspects of my job, an economical background is helpful. My supervisor was very supportive, for example in organising my working hours to combine my Master's degree with my job. And I was also able to apply the economical perspective to my next project - which involved the development of Mercedes me connect and the sale and distribution of digital services from Mercedes-Benz, for example.
And today you are looking for innovations for the mobility of tomorrow. How do you go about this?
As Head of Innovation Management in Marketing & Sales at Mercedes-Benz Cars, I am kind of an interface between our customers and our colleagues in Research and Development. It's all about identifying the innovations for the vehicles that will be entering the market in five to ten years' time. Naturally we primarily consider the wishes and needs of our customers – but also new technical possibilities that todays’ consumers may not even be able to imagine. Once we are sure that an idea makes sense, we work cross-functionally with the development departments to realise it.
Looking back on your career today, what advice would you give to young people who are faced with the decision to study or take up an apprenticeship?
Just go with your own gut feeling. I often have the impression that studying has established itself as the new standard, but it doesn't have to be the best choice for everyone. For me, starting with an apprenticeship at the Group was exactly the right thing – everyone should try that out for themselves. Whether you're still at school, or later at university: internships are a good way to do this.
Finally, a personal question: Who in your circle of friends and family do you think deserves a Prize?
No question, my wife! We have a small daughter and we both work full-time. We live quite a distance from our home area. Grandma and Grandpa are very supportive, but are not always available for childcare, due to the distance. It takes real teamwork to get everything organised - and I'm so glad to have such a wonderful partner.
Benjamin Brügel (35) inherited his enthusiasm for technology from his father. As a trained motor vehicle technician, he taught his son the correct use of tools at an early age. There was never any doubt that Benjamin, who was born in Neuweier near Baden-Baden in Germany, would want to do something practical after his time at school. After completing his apprenticeship at Daimler, the newly qualified automotive electrician initially worked in production, where he made sure that the suspension, body and engine found their way together. After completing his engineering studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Esslingen, Benjamin Brügel joined Daimler's After-Sales department and then completed his Master's degree in General Management at the University of Applied Sciences for Economics & Management (FOM) in Stuttgart. Today, Benjamin Brügel commits his time not only to identify technologies for the mobility of the future at Mercedes-Benz, but also when it comes to his family. He and his wife have discovered hiking as a new passion – being out in nature with their small daughter is sheer relaxation for the family man.