Lightyear: a single spirit

Erik Hiep
3 min

The automotive industry is characterized by large players with large budgets for innovation, production, and marketing. The entry threshold is high. Nevertheless, breaking that barrier and producing the world’s first long-range solar car is exactly what the Dutch automaker Lightyear wanted to do.

Two years of hard work, determination, and persistence culminated this summer in the unveiling of the prototype of the world’s first long-range solar car. “Our car, the Lightyear One, is completely different,” says Lightyear CEO Lex Hoefsloot. Indeed, each wheel has its own electric motor. The car is relatively low, and therefore more aerodynamic. The roof is covered with solar cells, but the car can also be charged by plugging in, like other electric cars.

Pioneering

When I first met Lex about three years ago, he had just taken up this idea. He started off with a small team of five founders, which they pioneered into a company that now has over 150 employees. The founders knew each other from Eindhoven University of Technology, where they designed a car for a solar race in Australia. The aim of that race was to travel as far as possible with a solar-powered car. The students thought that the same technology would also be feasible for passenger vehicles. And so it happened. The starting point was the same: drive as many kilometers as possible on solar power. Lightyear views itself as a group of engineers who saw a way to combat climate change. The team saw something that could be done and they’re doing it. I would call this a true pioneering spirit.

If you create a high-trust environment in your organisation, everything moves at a faster pace.

Mission first

As a professor and management consultant, I am always interested in observing and diagnosing how drive, passion, and will to win make it possible to achieve goals. The Lightyear team’s focus on the mission and will to win are probably among their most important characteristics. Lex told me right from the start: “We are a tech company on a mission—to create clean mobility for everyone—and this is super important. We need to figure out how Lightyear can expand while still maintaining our focus on winning and on our mission.”

Personally, I am most impressed by Lightyear’s commitment to the mission. Failure is simply not an option. You find a similar mindset among those who explore space, as well as in the military.

Winning team

To be quite honest, at first there was a lack of diversity. The initial team consisted entirely of Dutch millennials, mostly former technical university students, all capable and willing to work 24/7. They had a similar “tech” mindset, a certain dry sense of humor, and a huge drive. On top of that, they shared a common belief system about why to fight climate change and how to best capitalise on technology.

This uniformity was very powerful during the start-up phase. It was easy to align the team and everyone was quick on their feet. The “rules” on how to behave and what was expected were unwritten, yet very clear. Then, during the scale-up phase, the team needed to expand in size, skills, and quality, so more diversity was needed in the initial team, as well as in the rest of the company.

Growth Officer Maijke Receveur is responsible for getting Lightyear’s workforce up and running. She is working relentlessly to set the company up for victory in this next stage of its development. The key question here is how to create an environment where everyone feels at home, where equality rules, and where team members can play on their strengths most of the time. “The company’s values are our guiding principles when hiring people, but also when architecting and designing our workforce structure,” she notes.

Focus on the mission and will to win are probably among the most important characteristics that enable a company to achieve its goals.

High trust

If you create a high-trust environment in your organization, everything moves at a faster pace. This is helpful if you live in a red ocean where time is scarce. High-trust environments also foster honesty, playfulness, and spontaneity—essential ingredients if you need innovation on a daily basis. If you are on a super-important mission and you need to pioneer creative solutions with your team, this high-trust environment is a must. Everyone in the company needs to have that same spirit to make it happen.

It’s one thing to create such an environment, but quite another to maintain it and continue developing and growing it in a crowded, high-pressure marketplace. Lightyear is doing all this and more—as we speak.

The “Lightyear spirit” is about a team of ambitious pioneers working on an important mission and knowing they will achieve their ambition. This spirit is the driving factor behind their success.

About Erik Hiep, MBA.

Erik founded management consultancy firm The Next Level in 2002 and is an Associate Professor at IE Business School in Madrid. He is also an executive Director at Presidents Institute which is based in Copenhagen. In 2018 Erik interviewed former UK Prime Minister David Cameron live on stage during the Breaking Barriers Summit before a 2000+ audience. Erik has extensive consulting experience with international management teams and boards. He has worked on a wide variety of assignments in more than 30 countries in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia & the Americas.

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