We spoke with James Arnold, Head of Strategy & Process at Arrival. Arrival are reinventing both the design and production of electric vehicles for end to end sustainability, their mission is to truly innovate both products and processes to deliver the radical impact we need to combat the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Q. What does a Head of Strategy & Process do and how does that fit in with Arrival’s goals?
J: It’s a slightly unusual job title as it has two parts to it. The first part is what you might consider a normal strategy role…thinking about the markets that we’re in, the product market fit, the go-to-market strategy. The second part which is a bit more unusual is the internal strategy piece. This is more about asking ‘how do we become the business that we need to be to meet our goals?’ That can involve thinking about everything from business processes and tools to how fast we need to grow the team. What does the organisation structure need to be? What facilities do we need to have and what do they need to look like? What training and skills might we need? Essentially all of the topics that lead to us growing and maturing the business in the right way.
Q. What does a typical week look like for you?
J: It varies a lot! The balance between the two parts of the role I mentioned is something which evolves over a longer time scale. Especially with a start-up, when you are pre-revenue and you haven’t got a product on the market yet there is obviously a lot more time spent on the internal side. More time spent getting the company ready and preparing for what we need to do next. As we start to get closer to going to market there is more external work, external meetings and topics to deal with. This gives a picture of what my week looks like –it’s always a big mixture of internal and external discussions, and it could be anything from really broad top level discussions about our strategy with the leadership team right down to the very detailed work on designing processes. Within the last two hours I’ve done both of those things, I’ve written a procedure for something that we’re about to roll out and then I’ve just had a meeting about a new product topic and talking about how we’re going to set requirements for it and how it will fit into the marketplace. It’s a really interesting mix.
Q. What do you enjoy most about the role?
J: The variety is really important to me. I’ve always found this to be true as I like to work on different topics over periods of time and I like to switch between different styles of working. I enjoy having collaborative discussions, brainstorming, running workshops and working with the team but I also like to have quiet individual thinking work to do. I get to do both in this role. It keeps it fresh and keeps life interesting.
Q What was it that made you want to work at Arrival? What problems are you and the team trying to solve?
J: I feel a connection and inspiration from Arrival’s overall mission, to make the air clean and our cities more livable by switching to electric vehicles. This is something that is both current and easy to connect with. It’s an important mission and obviously that feels good to be a part of. At the same time, I studied engineering and so I find it really interesting to be involved in one of the most relevant technology areas of our time. The electrification of vehicles is a kind of revolution and so from an engineer’s perspective it’s great to be in this really, really relevant area.
I also find the way Arrival works very exciting and inspirational. It’s a creative, kind of crazy place in some ways. That’s the kind of engineering I love, I like to walk into an office and find people messing around making prototypes and having fun testing their ideas. That’s always been enjoyable for me.
Q. Where do you think that culture came from? Did it happen naturally? Was it from the types of people hired or the set-up of the office?
J: I think people have historically, and are still, given a lot of latitude to do the right thing at Arrival. They’re encouraged to test out new ideas. So I think it’s deliberate but I also think it’s come naturally from the way the company itself was set-up and funded. Up until a little before we went public, we hadn’t taken external investment – and that means you aren’t beholden to other people telling you how to work. That certainly helped create that culture in the beginning.
Q. Which do you think has been the most valuable experience in your career so far? Your education or your experience?
J: It depends how you consider what you take from your education. It’s definitely true that I rarely use any of my specific engineering knowledge in my day-to-day role. Obviously I did earlier in my career but not today. Having said that, I do deal with our engineers on a daily basis and I think having a fundamental understanding of the problems we have and the different solutions is very useful. It makes it easier to have meaningful discussions about the trade-offs between product requirements when you actually understand the underlying principles in question. I do think that helps a lot. There is also a lot of stuff I got from education that wasn’t really technical, learning how to focus, to manage your time, learning to push through intense periods of work is all so valuable.
Q. If you went back to your first few months in your very first role, is there a single piece of advice you would give yourself?
J: I would say to say yes to everything… to every opportunity, everything you’re asked or given a chance to do. It is so valuable at that stage. You rarely get opportunities twice. I think I did a reasonable job of saying yes to good, interesting experiences but there were probably some other things that I turned down that I could have done. At that stage you just have to soak all these different opportunities up.
Q. Is there a skill you wish you could add to your repertoire to make your role easier?
J: I’m not necessarily sure it would make my role easier but I would like to be able to code. It’s not something I picked up while studying. I don’t think it’s something I would use day to day but I feel it would give me a better foundation for understanding the software world.
Q. What do you think we need more of in Deep Tech?
J: We need more cognitive diversity in teams. In all kinds of ways. I think everyone would agree that the world needs more female engineers and scientists but also other kinds of diversity, I see a lot of teams in this world become rather homogenous in terms of industry experience, educational background, cultural background and so on. I think it brings a lot of benefits to a team to have these different kinds of perspectives. It’s almost always helpful for coming up with better ideas so I think it’s something everyone needs to try to do, to build up both structurally in the company and in your day to day teams.