Frank Homann: A Leadership Journey - American Society of Employers - Mary E. Corrado & Heather Nezich

Frank Homann: A Leadership Journey

Frank Homann is the Chairman of the Board for ASE Board of Directors and the VP of Global Automotive Sales for Molex, a manufacturer of electronic, electrical, and fiber optic connectivity systems. We sat down with Frank to learn more about his career journey and his outlook and advice on leadership and careers.

Tell us about your journey and how you got to where you are today.

As you can hear in my German accent, I was born and raised in Germany. I have two brothers that still live in the area where I was born. My dad was the CEO of a company before he retired, and my mom stayed home with us three boys.

I studied electrical engineering and during that time my friend and I had the idea to take a year and go to the United States.  We ended up at Wichita State University, and it was an incredible learning experience.  While we were there, East and West Germany reunited, so we experienced that from the U.S. point of view. Back then there was no internet, so we had to rely on the news channels.  We were impressed with how supportive the American people were of the Germans.

After completing my degree in Germany, I started working for Siemens Automotive in 1992 as a project manager. I told them that if there's any assignment opportunity in the U.S. I would love to consider that. It was not even a year and a half later, they made me an offer to move to the U.S. I worked for almost four years in Auburn Hills working on a joint venture with Siemens and Visteon for the development of an Airbag Control Unit for Ford.  During that time at Siemens, I met my wife, Michelle. We got married in 1997 –it will be 25 years this month! We moved back to Germany in 1998.  That’s when I moved into purchasing.  I had an incredible boss that believed in me and coached and mentored me, so fairly quickly, I became Director of Purchasing and then became VP of Global Purchasing for Siemens back in Germany.

After 4.5 years we decided to move back to Michigan. At that time, I moved into a P&L role. About a year and a half later, United Solar called and offered me a job. I left automotive and worked there until 2012 (about 4 years). Unfortunately, the company had to file for Chapter 11, and I became one of the liquidation officers. That was the hardest part of my career. I like building stuff, not destroying stuff.  We had to layoff over 2000 employees across the U.S. and globally. The good news is when we went down, the automotive industry came back up. We made it our mission to help these folks find jobs and housing. I'm really proud of what our small team was able to do to place people in new jobs.

I wanted to work for a company that's growing, putting my passion and energy into growth. I decided to work for a German company called Hirschmann as their North America President. I did that until TE Connectivity acquired them. They asked me to stay, so I stayed for another three years to finish the integration into their systems, and then in 2020 I joined Molex as the VP of Global Automotive Sales, where I am today.

Has the dual citizenship helped you in your career?

One of my college professors always told me that you have to find a way to stand out.  I realized when you have dual citizenship you somehow stand out. You understand different cultures and people. Even though Germans and Americans are similar in many ways, they're also different. It really helped me to build a network. They say you see everybody in your life at least twice, so the networking aspect has been very helpful. I might be biased, but Germans in general have a good reputation. They are known for technology and innovation and for being organized. It sometimes helps to put my German hat on when I when I talk to customers. Sometimes I put my American hat on, so it's kind of cool to play with that in a in a positive way.  And last but not least, the language skills help because many of our customers are Germans or Europeans. Certainly, that helps with translation and making sure folks understand certain things.  So, it's been extremely helpful.

When you came to the U.S. how good was your English?

If you asked my high school English teacher, he would have said it was just OK. I took a six-week intensive English course at Wichita State University. As a foreign student, before you can actually enroll into the normal classes, you have to pass a test of English as a foreign language. Those six weeks really helped me. But it was really when I moved to the U.S. with Siemens and was forced to speak English and have English conversations, that I became more fluent. It's hard because you're trying to concentrate, and at the beginning you're trying to translate everything in your head. But then after six months you don’t do that anymore. You start dreaming in English and then over time, it just becomes natural. Today, I have a hard time giving technical presentations in the German language. There are many terms I just don't know in German, so I like giving presentations in English much better.

How did you get involved in ASE? 

A former coworker from United Solar referred me to ASE. She described ASE to me, and it sounded fascinating. She knew you were looking for a new board member. I wasn’t sure at first, but she explained that not all ASE board members are in HR-related roles in order to have a diversified board of directors.  Once you and I met and I understood a bit more about ASE, I thought, hey this this might be a great opportunity.  That was now almost nine years ago, and I became chairman almost three years ago. I enjoy the board work, but also enjoy the networking piece of the people that we interface within the board.  It's been a lot of fun. That former coworker now works for General Motors, who you know is a big supporter of ASE, so we still run into each other through our work.

One of the challenges that employers are having today is around employee recruitment and retention. What advice do you have to give organizations that are struggling in these areas?

Right now, you're hearing the term “the great resignation.” It's been a challenge for all of us. When you think about why people leave companies, it's often because they didn’t associate with the company or maybe with the direction the company was taking. Some people are just curious to do something different. Maybe the network is missing, and so people are just eager to do something different. There are tons of opportunities right now. The automotive business is doing well, and people are looking for talent. There are headhunters all over, and people are trying to steal the best people in the industry. That’s certainly a challenge. What's important is knowing what makes your company a great place to work. Culture starts with management and then needs to be embedded into the entire company – all the way down to the janitor.  This is the tough part right now because we’re in this transition of do we allow people to work from home? Do we want them back in the office? How do we how do we deal with that? It's a challenge because there's no right or wrong. Every company is different, so my advice is to keep an eye on the culture of the company. That’s probably the biggest challenge, but there's ways to do that. It requires a lot of energy and effort, and HR certainly is part of that.

Many companies are looking to bring back employees back to the office and that's gotten a lot of pushback. I'm curious with Molex being as large as it is, and in this area of automotive, what is Molex’s philosophy on remote work?

I grew up driving to work every day. I like the actual work environment. The coffee chat,

the team building…all of that. As an executive, I feel that there needs to be a balance: There are folks that work very well at home, and they bring value to the company and that's absolutely OK. There are other folks that love the work environment, so we have to provide that environment. Looking back into my 30-year career, I learned the most in the hallway discussions, face-to-face meetings, and casual conversations at lunch before/after a meeting. I don’t think it ever was in a telephone call or TEAMS meeting. That's just my perspective. There is no right or wrong, we're all trying to figure this out. There are also different expectations with young folks coming out of college. They are familiar with social media and that's the world they grew up in.  Companies are dealing with a mix of those younger, newer workers and folks that maybe have worked in the company 10-15, even 20 years. Flexibility is important and at the end of the day, you have to look at the individual team members and explore options. That's something all of us are going to have to do over the next few years until we all figure out what's right or wrong. The spectrum is going to be big moving forward.

What are your thoughts about our economy? Do you think this is just the beginning?

Let me put my American hat on: I am optimistic about the future. There is so much demand for cars in the market (e.g. fleet vehicles replacements, lease vehicles).  Looking at automotive in general, I'm very optimistic.  The demand is there. Inventory at dealerships right now is 26 days; it used to be 60 days. Demand built up during COVID, so car companies are eager to continue producing as long as they get enough parts. I’m excited for the transformation that we're in right now regarding electric vehicles (EVs) and increased connectivity, but it requires a different type of workforce. There's going to be a shift. We don't need that many combustion engine engineers; those engineers will need to transition into electric vehicle technology which is quite different. Some of the layoffs that you're seeing is the repositioning of talent as the automotive industry transforms.

Are we in a recession?

I don't think we're in a recession. The only thing I worry a little bit about is what's going on over in Europe with the Russia Ukraine war. Germany and Europe depend on gas supply from Russia. If they turn it off, this could have some recession consequences in Europe. But overall, I'm very optimistic about the automotive industry in the United States and globally.

Recently, California actually made it law that they’re outlawing gas fueled vehicles by 2035. What are your thoughts on that?

The European Union did the same about six months ago. They haven't formally decided yet, but there is a proposal out there that by 2035 there won't be any more combustion engines allowed in Europe. So, California is following what the European Union is discussing. At least 17 other states will most likely follow what California did. There's still a little bit of hesitation with EVs and there are good reasons for that. People are concerned that there aren’t enough charging stations, but I'm convinced the infrastructure is going to be built up so quickly that in in probably three or five years from now, we will have charging stations everywhere. Battery technology is changing so much that the range of vehicles is going from around 200 miles to 405 hundred miles per charge. And the recharge speed is accelerating quickly.  You can charge 80% of the battery in literally 20 minutes.

I think the tipping point will be when the market accepts an F150 pickup truck as an electric vehicle. People will recognize that there's an advantage driving electric versus combustion engines. Instead of going to a gas station, we will have to go to a charging station. I think we'll figure that out

Switching gears, you were recently nominated for a leadership award. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, that was that was really cool. Ward’s Auto looks at people in the industry every year that have done

something unique in their career. The leadership award/nomination is amazing, and the folks who were nominated are truly special. I was the runner up. It was incredible to meet some of the other folks that were nominated. Everyone has a different story. My story was really about coaching, mentoring, and helping young individuals to get their careers started. I helped a person in deciding to either stay with Siemens or to go back to school. She needed somebody to open her mind (she had asked the wrong people for advice). Not only did she go back to school and finish her business degree, she went on for her masters and even a PHD. She is now a CFO at Siemens and a professor at a University in Switzerland. I am so proud of her. All I did was listen, give advice, and tell her that while I can’t put it in writing, if things don’t work out, I will do everything possible to bring her back. It was as simple as that and look what she has become!

Who were your mentors along the way in your career?

I have had mentors in my career, both formal and informal. They certainly helped in my career. Just having somebody that went through their own journey to talk to about pretty much anything, clearly helps. I was fortunate to work for great companies and for some incredible leaders. Over the years, I have picked things that are good and made them part of my toolbox.

What do you like to do for fun?

The most important thing for me is family. Spending time with my wife and kids is certainly number one. I used to play tennis – believe it or not five to seven days a week – but I haven't played recently. I need to get back to playing more tennis, but I also discovered the world of golf. I’m not very good, but you know, I try to make it better and truly enjoy it.

From a business perspective what's fun for me is helping talent to further develop and giving them opportunities. We just sent a gentleman over to Japan including his wife, three kids, and a dog. We provide people like him the opportunity to really change their lives. Helping folks to further advance in their career gives me the biggest joy. I love hearing from someone that says 20 years ago when you sent me on an assignment or when you gave me this opportunity it changed my life. I'm so thankful for this. It gives me the biggest joy helping folks find their way.

What career advice would you like to share?

There are a couple things that are really important whether you are just starting your career, in the middle of it, or like me…on the tail end of your career:  

  1. Number one is values. Integrity, humility, honesty, loyalty…these are important things in today's world. They mean something to me personally. Live your life with these values, whether it's your business life or your personal life.
  2. Networking – start early, never stop, and make it fun. My dad always said, “Connections only hurt you when you don't have any.” Hence the reason why I'm part of ASE. We have an amazing opportunity to meet some incredible people.
  3. Try to be a role model. Especially when you're more advanced in your career. People look up to you if you're an executive or supervisor, so do the right things.
  4. Be patient. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for things to happen, but be patient. Set yourself a goal and work towards the goal.
  5. Do what you enjoy.  Not everybody wants to be an executive. Some people just want to do what they enjoy, whether it's software engineering, hardware engineering, marketing, etc.  
  6. Last, but probably the most important: Family comes first. Jobs come and go; careers evolve, but family is the number one priority. There is nothing more important than your family.
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