About Systems?

Venu Siddapureddy and sonsVenu SiddapureddyBy Venu Siddapureddy, SDM ’02
Senior Research Engineer
Vehicle Electronics and Systems Department
Ford Motor Company
November 1, 2002

I equate “cool” with systems because they can be anything you want them to be – from a small component to whole car. A system can also be a local working group or a whole corporation, extending to suppliers and customers. It can be family, country, the world, and beyond. It can be the present moment, a week, a year, 50 years into the future, the past. Or it can be all of this.

Before I came to SDM, I considered an MBA, but realized I would miss the focus on technology and new product development. As someone who works on hybrid electric vehicle (HEVs), this is very important to me.

I was working on hybrid vehicle electric motor cooling and control electronics systems. Although the efficiencies I gained in my local system could be translated as robustness (i.e., it could take unexpected abuses from the whole system and survive), I knew that it would be difficult to spread these benefits to the whole system. The approach to systemic thinking I learned in SDM helps me add to the whole system’s reliability, even when the scope of my personal responsibility is limited.

Since graduating in June 2002, I’m higher up in the hierarchy. I’m now looking at how to make HEVs and hybrid technologies proliferate Ford’s vehicle line-up, without hurting profit margins, of course.

I’m analyzing these hybrid systems from different perspectives, starting with technical feasibility and moving on to development feasibility, economic feasibility, and customer acceptance. My SDM education is valuable here because I’m now more aware of issues involving economics, the global environment, technology, and people. All of this feeds into the business cases I prepare for senior executives at Ford. This multi-faceted approach has more “oomph!” to withstand the onslaught of executive questions and concerns.

My corporation has a direct role to play in the environment’s well-being and I am involved in helping to figure out how we can transform ourselves into a more environmentally responsible player. This can result in big benefits for Ford in terms of gaining market share as customer acceptance of HEVs increases.

Case in point: California has severe air quality problems, and motor vehicles are the largest reason why. They contribute about one-half of the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone – the main ingredient in smog.

HEVs have the potential to be 90 percent cleaner than the average new 2002 model year car. Translate that to vehicles in all segments, from cars to heavy-duty trucks, and from California to North America to worldwide, and it would result in vastly improved air quality for all living beings.

I feel that I am now a change agent because of all the connections my systems perspective enables me to make. I can see how I can act locally, now, to achieve global future benefits.

My mentor, Peter Senge, initiated me into systems thinking while I was in SDM. In the Organizations as Enacted Systems course, Senge and Wanda Orlikowski demonstrated how our habitual thoughts and actions will dictate our future thoughts and actions. They also showed us tools and methods to help us free ourselves from our habitual way of being in order to be more present and more creative.

In Senge’s and Shoji Shiba’s classes, I learned processes to incorporate effective listening into corporate systems in order to respond to changes in customer behavior. I’ve learned how to deal with people as both a large-scale system and as individuals. And I now believe that people – as a whole or as individuals — are of paramount importance. In fact, a major part of my thesis addressed the importance of listening to people at the individual, local, corporate, and global levels and how to incorporate that into creating new systems for people, products, and processes.

On a personal note, some very pleasant things happened to me as well. My wife told me I changed and am now listening more closely to what she is saying. Her exact words were “You’re now more here when you’re here.”

Also, I didn’t know I’d be able to work 16 hours a day and still survive. Not only did I survive and complete the program, but my wife and I had our second child during that time – on the day of the SDM graduation ceremony. Consequently, the only thing I wasn’t able to do in my time at SDM was attend the commencement exercises! My newborn prevented me from soaking in the rain for four hours (it was raining on graduation day). I guess he knew something even before coming into the world. A system thinker in the making, I guess.