What Drives Her: Olabisi Boyle Leads Hyundai into the Electric Future

She's busting stereotypes and setting new standards for women in the auto industry. How? What guides does Olabisi Boyle place on herself, and how does it feel?

Olabisi Boyle Of Hyundai
Olabisi Boyle of Hyundai

And She Shares How She Did It

Olabisi Boyle, who goes by Bisi among her friends and colleagues, is a busy woman. The vice president of product planning and mobility strategy at Hyundai, her world is all about automotive innovation. She’s leading the automaker into new fields around automatic payment systems, evolving electric vehicles and realizing global strategies. She’s an outlier in many ways – a woman in the automotive industry, a Black woman from Harlem who attended an Ivy League university and chose a career in automotive – and she’s also the success story we aspire to and the hope we hold for our daughters and the future of our industries.

So we took the opportunity to sit with Bisi recently for a frank discussion about what drives her; how she navigated her career, how she approaches challenges and avoided the pitfalls that can derail so many. How she grows and views herself as a leader, as a woman, as a competitor, and how she feels about it all.

Listen to the entire discussion on our podcast here.

Related: I went to Korea and Discovered the Soul of Kia and Hyundai, Korea’s Car Kings

The Journey From Nigeria to Hyundai Products and Mobility

Scotty: Was working for Hyundai a dream that you had when you were a little girl?

Bisi: I grew up first in Lagos, Nigeria, till I was 10. My parents got divorced, and we came back to the States [where] I grew up in Harlem, New York, and my father was an engineer. [Growing up], if I had to choose between science and math and reading and writing, I preferred science and math.

I knew I wanted to do something more related to that. And my mom would always say, oh, it’s because your father is an engineer. By the time I went to college, I knew I also had a creative side.

The way I describe it is form and function. And what I do love about the auto industry is you have to have function in terms of a car and the motors and the batteries and the charging time and how fast you can do it. Do you meet your vehicle targets, and what’s the 0 to 60, what’s the braking distance, and all that? So I call that the function, right? But then the form is how streamlined and sleek Ioniq 6 is. But the form also helps us in function because it helps us in [things like] coefficient of drag and making a coefficient of drag of, CD of 0.21.

What I love about auto is that it [brings] form and function [together]. I worked in tech a little bit at IBM between grad and undergrad and then actually after grad. Then, I ended up in the auto industry at Ford, and that was where I really saw this blend of form and function.

I was at Ford for eight years and then at Chrysler for 12. And to be honest, I thought I was going to retire [from the] auto industry. Then we moved to California, and my husband started working at one of the electric vehicle startups, and I just figured I’d take off maybe six months, then I’d also work with one of the EV startups.

And then somehow I got connected with Visa, they found me and were interested in bringing someone with the car industry background to what they were trying to do with car payments and tokenize Visa cards, right? I got really excited about that and [initially] had to learn [because] I had established myself as a leader in auto. Then I was in a completely different place that has its own structures, payments.

I had to learn that, plus bring the car piece to it and be adept at that. After four years, that was really exciting. I learned about fintech, I learned about IOT, I learned about tech. That’s in California, where it’s not all auto. It’s very tech-oriented, obviously, because I live in Palo Alto.

Then, when Hyundai called, I was so excited [by] this new industry, and I was doing well in it. At first, I was kind of intrigued because they were still in California, and a lot of the automakers are no longer in California.

I kept talking [to Hyundai] because it was interesting. Other people called me in between. Then I got an interview with José Muñoz and I realized that it would be a challenge working for him every single day, and it is.

Olympian Simone Biles And Olabisi Boyle At Visa

Olympian Simone Biles and Olabisi Boyle at VISA

Related: What Drives Her: Meet the Women Who Are Taking the Auto World by Storm

Respect Is Key to Hiring Great People 

I did not know who José was before that interview and during the middle of it, I was just like, wow, I’d get away with nothing with that guy.

I like going next level, and this has been completely next level. When I [started my role with Hyundai], I learned about our EC, our executive chair, [who is] a visionary and a good person of such good, decent character.

Especially [at this point] in my career, I’ve been around a while, and it matters to me who I work for, and I have tremendous respect for our EC. He has this North Star vision to make us a smart mobility solutions provider and his commitment to the EV transformation. It makes me just wanna work here.

Scotty: Having respect for the person you work for, that’s an incredible measure that I think a lot of people forget. They fall in love with the job or the possibilities, or where it might take them or the brand, but they forget to work for somebody they respect.

Bisi: Well, it matters to me more now. I also have probably a little bit more privilege to choose. At this point, I [need] to respect you, or I’m gonna do something else.

Related: What Drives Her: Dianne Craig Leads Lincoln Into Its Next Era

Degrees in Physics, Industrial Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering

Scotty: That’s another point too. [One way to] get good people to work for you is by being someone they can respect. And it’s amazing how many people never think about that. Tell us about where you went to college.

Bisi: Back in the day, there was this program in New York called the 32 engineering program between Fordham University and Columbia University in New York. And so you spend three years doing one of the sciences and I majored in physics.

[Then, students in the program] spend two years at Columbia in one of the engineering disciplines. I did industrial engineering. At the end of the fourth year, you get the Bachelor of Science from Fordham and I got it in physics.

And at the end of the fifth year, you get [a] Bachelor of Science from Colombia and I got industrial engineering. Then for two years, I worked at a company called GTE, which is now Verizon, on the East Coast. Then I went back to grad school, my husband and I met at Columbia and then we both went back to grad school and got our master’s in mechanical engineering.

So I have a master’s in [mechanical engineering] and two Bachelor of Science [degrees], one in physics and one in industrial engineering.

Automotive Industry Leaders, Auto Industry

Olabisi Boyle, Vice President, Product Planning and Mobility Strategy, Hyundai Motor North America. Photo: Hyundai

Does an Uphill Climb for Women in Automotive Actually Give them an Edge?

Scotty: Let’s talk about you as a woman in this space and when you first started in automotive. Did you feel a little lonely? And why did you stay? That’s a hard question for a lot of women.

Bisi: It’s a hard question. Let’s put that in a couple of ways, right? One of the reasons I took this job at Hyundai is I do feel God has blessed me [with the] things I had to learn and go through at Chrysler [and] Ford as a woman in product development and engineering and manufacturing.

There were many times I felt isolated and alone and by myself, [but] now those same things could happen to me, and [I may] feel isolated and alone, but now I’m just like, you can do it.

But like, I ain’t the Bisi from 30 years ago, I’m the Bisi from now.

I wasn’t looking for this particular job. [Hyundai] came, and I feel that God put it in my face or in my way because he was just like, whatever you’ll have to go through no matter how tough it is [your new challenge]. It’s a different culture because Ford and Chrysler are American companies, and [Hyundai] is global. They were global but still American companies and this is not an American company, it’s a South Korean company. That has different nuances that can add to the whole situation.

I would say when things happened to me 10 or 15 years ago, it could knock you down, it could hurt your self-esteem. But now when they happen, they’re just annoying; but it’s kind of like you’re in a car that is 600 horsepower [going] 50 miles an hour and then someone thinks that they can pass you and you’re just like, honey, it’s my choice.

[My role with Hyundai is] a way to grow, and I can handle it. It’s now my obligation or my duty so that other people who are 22 [and struggling can look up to me].

Scotty: And how did you overcome those times when you were younger that did pull you down?

Bisi: I think I was so blessed [to have] a mother that stressed positivity, perseverance, resilience. And I’ll just be honest: Black women just have to know that whether life is fair or not fair, it is what it is. You need to figure it out and the thing is I almost feel stronger and, and [I am] a top competitor now because other people who are maybe more entitled to some degree, they are more focused on protecting the stuff they have that comes with their entitlement.

When you’re never part of the club or the clique, you ain’t never had no entitlement, and you have to figure out all these things to still have influence, still be productive and efficient and get things done. So now I have all those skills.

I can protect other women or [say] I don’t like that and before I’d be nervous about that. Now I’m like, if you’re upset about it, we can find a therapist but I can’t take on your issues. I have the things that I’m focused on and I’m going through them because I got to get stuff done.

Scotty: It’s so hard how our society expects women to do that, to hold your hand through whatever is going wrong in your life, to nurture and take care over our own selves in our families, in our jobs, everywhere. [We have to have the] strength to be able to say I’ll help you how I can, but your problems are not my problems or, I can’t do that for you.

Bisi: It’s very hard for us to say no; I do that with my family. But it’s not so much that I’ll do it at work. [For example], if you’re upset that I got a job that you wish you got and [you think I] just got it because of diversity.

No, sweetheart. I got it because I’m just better at it. And I could not say that so [I don’t] hurt your feelings.

But that’s the issues I’m saying I can’t take care of. Before I would worry about that issue, oh, they said I got this.

Scotty: They say when you come across a woman in automotive, she is the best there is because she’s had to work 10 times harder than everybody else to get there. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that.

That’s why there’s so many women who are rising to such high levels in automotive. We’re not quite where I think we need to be in terms of the C-suite, but we’re getting there and I will give props to Jose for hiring a lot of great people and a lot of great women.

Bisi: He has a lot of great women in his life, his personal life that he respects. I think that’s why he’s open to that.

Scotty: With a company like Hyundai, that’s a foreign company that’s never been part of the ‘boys club’, do you see in the culture maybe more of a sense of what you just talked about? I’ve never been a part of that clique, so I have to work harder. I have to prove myself?

Bisi: The EC is exceptionally progressive, and he’s the leader of the company. We have opportunities elsewhere.

Hyundai Prepares for an Electric Future by Serving all of its Customers Where They Are Right Now

Scotty: That’s awesome. So let’s talk about electric cars, and all the things you’re doing at Hyundai. When I first met you, you talked about coming from Visa and working on payment systems. Then in Chicago, in February, you announced Hyundai Pay. Can you tell us where you are on Hyundai Pay and what that is?

Bisi: Before we get to that, [I want] to talk about how the whole thing came together, right? We’re on this EV transformation journey. [Hyundai] has put in the commitment on delivering on that journey in terms of world class EVs. Ioniq 5, World Car of the Year, next year Ioniq 6, World Car of the Year and Ioniq 6 is up for NACTOY finalists.

In terms of battery EV, full EV, if you look at the penetration of EVs over the last 2 or 3 years ago, we’re kind of like 1.9%. This yea,r let’s call it 7-8%. By 2030 because of the mandates, we’ll have to be kind of 60-70%.

We have delivered on battery EVs, and we will continue new platforms, getting better charging times, bigger batteries. If I then also plot the curve of EV adoption when you move from early adopters to mass market and then the plot of EV infrastructure, those curves are less steep; they’re gonna catch up but less steep.

The difference between the steep curve and the less steep, the angst factor. Hyundai realized this and it’s part of our strategy and part of the things that we talked about, and I think we’ve done a really good job. We know the future is electric and we are already on that trail.

We give world-class battery EVs. We also have a lineup that says how do we address the pace of transformation? Because that’s why the angst is there, the future is electric. But the pace between those two curves is causing angst for people, especially when we try to move the massed options.

We have a lineup that says we got battery EVs, but we also have plug-in hybrids on our volume vehicles. We also have HEVs, we have fuel cell EVs, we have fuel efficient ICE vehicles – like the Santa Fe.

And we have next-gen and some of our core models coming out that are also ICE vehicles. So, we have addressed the pace of the angst, and we’ve addressed the future of EVs. Now, the thing is in this EV transformation.

Not only do you have the product, but you have to think about how we charge, how we pay, how we own. We made partnerships with seven other OEMs – I think you might have seen that – and we’re gonna have 30,000 chargers by the end of the decade, and we start doing that in 2024.

And then we also want to bring flagship sites that we have in Korea to North America. [These will be] sites that allow you to charge, maybe download over the air while you’re charging to upgrade your vehicle, and improve your vehicle, and add new features to your vehicle. Also, we wanted a charging system that can handle our 800 volt architecture that lets you do DC fast charging.

Hyundai Home and Hyundai Pay Pave the Way for Inevitable Innovations

And then we have in-home where we have [Hyundai Home] energy advisors that will say, gosh, maybe you want solar panels to give you the electricity to charge your car, and maybe you want a battery charger to store that energy to have it go back to the grid when California needs more energy. Maybe we use in car payments to have your charge turned on and charge [outside of] peak hours.

So you’re charging at a lower rate, and then you’re selling that energy back to the grid, and you do it through this in-car payment that pays your credit card or you pay the system either way and we help you with your charger. This is all done with an energy advisor that tells you what you need for solar panels or the level two charger you need.

Now, through Hyundai Home, you get a free charger and $600 off your installation. When you go to this new EV transformation, you have to think about how you charge and how you pay with the in-car payment. We want people to understand how in-car payment works.

We started off with parking; we worked with Parkopedia. They have 6,000 sites and through your unit screen, you can do that.

Scotty: You plug into the multimedia system where you want to park and you can just pay for it.

Bisi: And then you just get out of the car; it’s kind of like Uber for parking. Now, maybe we bring that into the EV charging network so that it’s [like] Uber for EV charging.

How do we bring all [the EV charging apps] together? Maybe even while we’re in the transitional phase, we want to do it on ICE vehicles with fuel. Now people are understanding what we talked about in Chicago. How we own, how we access – affordability becomes more important once you move from early adopters to the mass adapters. So now you can buy a vehicle, you can lease it for 2,3,4 years, or now you can subscribe [to] it.

[If you] don’t know if [an EV will] work for you, put a credit card down for 20 days. It includes maintenance insurance and all of that.

Subscribe the vehicle and then if [you] want it for another month, [you] can do that. If [you] don’t want it, it doesn’t work, [if you] can’t find any chargers in [your] neighborhood [you can unsubscribe].

No 2, 3 year commitment. Now we add an incentive to lower the subscription price and if you want to buy that vehicle in 23 months, we give you a $2500 loyalty coupon to lower the [purchase] price.

This whole journey means you have to select it holistically, not only the product but how we pay, how we charge, how we own or access.

Scotty: Thinking about the future and what it is, you’re like an imagineer and it’s just the greatest job.

Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for joining us, Bisi!

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