From Audi trainee to company president

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​Daniel Weissland was a German industrial engineering and management student who learned about the automotive business in 1998 as an intern at Audi of America in Michigan, while struggling to understand his English-speaking host family and colleagues.

In 2015, he became president of Audi Canada and today leads Audi of America, headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, as president. While it may have been quick, Weissland’s career progression from intern to C-suite did not follow a linear path.

Weissland was an apprentice at the German Federal Railways in Munich before realizing the job would not lead to the life he wanted to create. He quit his job and returned to school to graduate from high school and attend the Hochschule Munchen University of Applied Sciences in Munich.

While in college, he interned at Volkswagen South Africa in Uitenhage (now Kariega), South Africa, and at Audi of America, then headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, before moving on. graduated in 1999.

SHRM online spoke with Weissland about the role his internships played in preparing him for his global career, which included:

  • From 1999 to 2005, he held one-year positions as a full-time employee at Audi AG, the company’s luxury sedan. He has held the positions of Product Manager, Northern Europe Distribution Manager, Northern Europe Dealer Network Development and Sales Manager for Ireland and Portugal.
  • Obtained a master’s degree in business administration from the Hochschule Munchen University in 2005.
  • Progressing in other areas of Audi AG from April 2005 to August 2015: Sales Director and Deputy General Manager for Audi Volkswagen Middle East, Assistant to the Board Member for Marketing and Sales, and Regional Manager for Southern Europe.
  • Completed the Advanced Management Program at IESE Business School of the University of Navarre – the Graduate Business Studies Program at the University of Navarre – in Barcelona, ​​Spain in 2013.
  • President of Audi Canada in Ajax, Canada, from August 2015 to January 2018.
  • Served as President and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada in Ajax from December 2017 to September 2019. Volkswagen is the parent company of Audi.
  • President of Audi of America at its current headquarters in Herndon, Virginia since September 2019.

The following answers have been edited for length and clarity.

SHRM online: What kind of learning experiences have you had as an intern in the automotive industry?
Oeisland: I worked in the industrial engineering department. I mainly did office work, with one exception: in South Africa, often when people were paid, they didn’t show up for two or three days. [after]. All the white collar workers had to go to the assembly lines to finish these cars [in their absence]. On a normal day, they finish 100 cars; we have completed 10 cars.

The workers went on strike for a few days as the factory’s assembly line prepared for the launch of the new model. It was important to clean up the assembly line and finish the older models first. Since the workers went on strike, we company employees had to help assemble the remaining old models.

It’s a culture I’ve never been exposed to before, and something you need to learn. The takeaway: be ready for new challenges and manage it. There is no book you can read to prepare for every situation in life, at work or outside of work.

SHRM online: What advice can you give to students to get the most out of their internship?
Weiss country: There is no linear process of a career. Be open, seize opportunities as they present themselves. Work hard and be relentless. Every day try to do your best. Be ready to step out of your comfort zone; I remember [my] mistakes and I learned a lot from them.

As a student, I was always enthusiastic about cars. I wanted to understand the business behind it. I tried to put a foot in the door; it was one of the objectives I had for my internships. This is where my passion for the automotive industry was born. As an intern at Audi, I had a small carpool that I managed for the management team. I had the opportunity to drive these cars through the car wash and fill up the gas tank. Even today, I feel a passion for cars.

SHRM online: What impact has mentoring had on your career path from intern to president?
Weiss country: When I was an intern, my mentor was my boss. I am still in contact with him; he still lives in michigan [where Weissland interned]. He wanted to hire me [the end of my internship] but as an American student and a German citizen, it was not so easy at the time to obtain a green card or a visa.

It is important that a mentor encourages you to step out of your comfort zone. One of my mentors [later in my career] told me, “You have to learn to play all the keys of the piano if you want to be a master.”

[During my U.S. internship] a worker who started three or four weeks after me helped me a lot. I was able to get advice on how things work. You have to rely on the team, find someone to help you, coach you and grow within the organization.

SHRM online: You built your 24-year career at Audi. It is more common these days for people to move around. What advice can you offer to young people who wish to develop their career within the same company or the same sector?
Weiss country: It’s a matter of loyalty. As long as I saw a career path I could develop and enjoyed working there, why should I change employers? Especially with international companies, you have tons of opportunities. I saw no reason to change companies just because I could make a few thousand dollars more somewhere else. I believe in the company, I believe in the values ​​of the company, and [I created] a path for myself to grow and develop.

My advice: Be open and seize opportunities. And you have to enjoy what you do.

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