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How Anja Hendel is helming the wave of digital change at Porsche

Besides the swtich to electronic vehicles, the marque is also embarking on projects in blockchain and artificial intelligence.

As someone who takes public transport to get around and has no previous background in the automotive industry, Anja Hendel seems an unlikely candidate to play a major role in Porsche’s venture into electric vehicle (EV) production. Evidently, Porsche’s top brass thought otherwise.

Like all car manufacturers in the United States, Europe and Asia, Porsche was forced to rethink the way they make cars and market them in the face of disruptive technologies. Petrol-guzzling cars require thousands of moving parts to produce power and speed. EVs only need a couple of hundred parts to do the same job.

Clearly , a retooling of the production process was in order. “It required the heart of a winner to start from zero, and that is what the brand is about,” says Hendel in Singapore during The Future Of Mobility with Porsche earlier this year. “We had to take everything we learned and know from making sports cars over the past 70 years and restart with new ideas.”

That’s where Hendel fits in. She graduated from Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg Cooperative State University in 2002 in computer science and economics and worked as an IT consultant developing software before Porsche snagged her services in 2013. A year later, she was roped into a core group of strategists to map out Porsche’s digital strategy.

She later became director of Porsche Digital Lab in Berlin, placing her at the heart of Porsche’s efforts to roll out its first EV, the Taycan, which launched in September. The car has 761 horsepower, a top speed of 260kmh and sprints from 0-100km in 2.8 seconds.

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So why was she chosen? “I am different,” Hendel laughs. “Not only am I female, but I am also not a car girl. I’ve not owned one for more than 10 years. Maybe that is a good thing.”

Hendel helps the sports car maker tap into technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things and quantum computing. Her team also collaborates with partners and start-ups to develop innovative technologies. Their mission is to inspire Porsche’s engineers and everyone at the carmaker and show them how these technologies can improve their daily work.

“We believe in early testing and want to first make sure we solve every customer challenge, desire or issue before we invest a lot of money in it,” says Hendel.

But, more challenges lie ahead, such as autonomous vehicles, that will force the German carmaker and others in the industry to keep reinventing themselves if they want to stay in the game.

Says Hendel: “It is not about which company is leading the industry but about adding value to products. We may be super successful but we need to also be humble because if we are not, this can end quite quickly. Nobody cares about yesterday’s achievements and if things change we must be prepared. This is what Digital Lab is doing for us.”

(Related: The Porsche 911 Carrera 4S: criminally good)