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Fast chips to fast cars: why Ferrari hired an electronics heavyweight as its new CEO

Posted by Elaine Birch on 21st July 2021

Last month’s announcement that luxury automotive legend Ferrari was hiring Benedetto Vigna as its new CEO came as a surprise to many in both the automotive industry and the wider business world. Why? Because he is ‘an electronics guy’. A semiconductor guy, to be precise. He hasn’t climbed the ranks of automotive greats or been a big player in the luxury market. He makes chips. The geeky kind, not the oven-ready, delicious kind.

A daunting task

For most industry commentators, Vigna’s appointment was a big risk — moving away not only from the automotive sphere but also from the luxury consumer goods sector. And such a risk was even more surprising, perhaps, given that the new CEO will have multiple challenges to face upon his official start date in September.

Once seen as the team to beat in Formula 1, Ferrari suffered its worst racing season in 40 years in 2020. Add to this the pressure of developing its first ever purely electric vehicle and the introduction of a new ‘extension strategy’, aimed at opening up the brand’s appeal and accessibility without compromising its premium, exclusive reputation. There’s no doubt Vigna has a big job to do.

But is there a hint of genius to Ferrari’s seemingly left-field decision to turn to the electronics sphere for its next leader?

An electronics pioneer

Vigna may not be from an automotive or luxury goods background, but his CV tells the tale of an astonishingly successful career in microelectronics. Currently employed by chip manufacturer STMicroelectronics, he is the president of the company’s Analog, Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS) and Sensors Group, which was the firm’s largest and most profitable business division in 2020.

With a degree in subnuclear physics, Vigna joined ST over 25 years ago and led the firm into the MEMS market, pioneering ground-breaking innovations in user interface and touch screen technology. The most high-profile example of this was his team’s involvement in developing the ‘three axis gyroscope’, which is essentially the tech that lets you move your phone screen from portrait to landscape, as debuted in the Apple iPhone 4.

The best of both worlds

So how wacky is it that Ferrari has turned to an expert in sensor technology to lead the crucial next stage in its journey? Well, not that wacky at all. That same three axis gyroscope technology has now graduated beyond mobile phone us and is used in a multitude of communication and navigation applications, including advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and safety protocols in cars.

As automotive companies face increasing pressures to reduce emissions, embrace a fully electric future and meet stringent targets and regulations around driver and passenger safety, technology is inevitably going to play a huge part in how they achieve these goals.

Vigna’s knowledge of and experience in developing and implementing sensor-led technology puts him in a hugely advantageous position at Ferrari. Staying competitive will depend on car firms’ ability to stay ahead of the market, developing next-generation technologies — something that comes as easily as breathing to Vigna.

Electronics for the win

For me, this appointment is an exciting reminder that electronics, and the technological innovations that it enables, has the potential to transform every industry,

The electronics sector (and, in particular, the electronics for automotive field) is currently undergoing one of its most enduring challenges as the chip shortage rages on, driven by the surge in demand for components needed for bleeding-edge chip technology throughout the telecoms and communications markets. Yet every day, emerging talent and innovations are changing the electronics landscape, and what the technology is capable of.

From flexible integrated circuits thinner than a human hair, which can be embedded into smart packaging, to sensors enabling voice-controlled devices around the home, we are proud to be working with some of today’s most creative and promising electronics talent. We know from the work they are doing that electronics tech really does have the power to (and is already starting to) change the world.

So good luck Benedetto, and fair play to Ferrari. We can’t wait to see what direction he steers the company in next…

Elaine Birch

Passionate about building and nurturing client relationships, Elaine loves the challenge of getting to the heart of what her clients want to achieve and designing smart and strategic PR programmes to suit. A keen and talented writer, Elaine loves to delve deep into a technical subject and wordsmith it into engaging, cut through content. Her love of words extends to outside of work as well, where she enjoys writing poetry, journaling and reading. She also is the office lipstick aficionado, with a shade for every mood!