Not everyone wants to be a manager. At Continental experts can also make a career for themselves. Their task in research and development in the Tire division: to use the latest scientific discoveries to create marketable products.
Some people are just good at what they do. So good that no one can hold a candle to them in this area – and no decision is made without their opinion being sought. "Rewarding" these experts by promoting them to the boss' chair would not do justice their strengths. With the roles of experts, Continental creates a high degree of specialization, securing the conditions under which these people can fully develop and realize their potential and expertise.
The expert role was introduced in the tire development team at Continental a decade ago. To some extent, it puts the experts on an equal footing with departmental heads when it comes to salary and recognition. The career path is open to proven specialists who not only have in-depth technical knowledge but can transform it into marketable products.
Carla Recker has been an expert from the very start, and is responsible for materials chemistry in the tire division. Since 2007, Recker, who holds a PhD in chemistry, has worked on producing natural rubber from the root sap of the dandelion. This is to replace the natural rubber obtained from the latex in tropical rubber trees used in tire production – reducing the environmental impact and logistics costs. Together with researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute and other project partners, Recker cultivates dandelions, tests the first dandelion tires, and will shortly build a pilot system for production on a commercial scale. "Blue sky thinking is definitely welcome here – so long as it’s practical," she says with a laugh.
Rüdiger Menz is also known at Continental for his good ideas. Menz, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering, has been developing methods for testing the durability of tires for the last five years. Today he is an expert in this field, and can simulate specific excessive strains on tires with increasingly sophisticated test procedures. "I have a whale of a time creating theoretical models," says Rüdiger Menz. The particular challenge is that they must withstand the reality test. Instead of working in an ivory tower, the experts aim to achieve usable results for the company.
Of course there is also a certain degree of pressure, admits expert Menz: "I always need to come up with new ideas, and have to be constantly creative." And when colleagues come to him with a problem, he needs to listen: "Often management skills are required, as there are a lot of people who do the groundwork for me."
In principle, Carla Recker and Rüdiger Menz have more “employees” than some bosses: colleagues from all departments work on their projects. But as they are not managers, they have to motivate their teams in other ways. "I need to be more patient and use all my powers of persuasion," says Carla Recker. And they need a healthy level of self-confidence, as the results of their work are often later sold by other employees. "I feel valued by colleagues and managers – and am really glad I don't have to deal with HR matters and budgets." No other job would have suited her better, explains Recker.
Currently there are around 19 experts working in the field of research and development in Stöcken, Hanover. Their prominent position also gives them standing in the company. In organizational terms they are on a par with the department manager and, just like them, report to the main department head; they are able to talk to managers on an equal footing.
The expert career at Continental is a model for success: there are experts throughout the corporation. In the Tire Division, they work not only in research and development but also in production, engineering, and IT.