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Daniel Weissland: From Audi Intern to Company President

A close up of a building.

​Daniel Weissland was an industrial engineering and management student from Germany learning the automotive business in 1998 as an intern at Audi of America in Michigan, while struggling to understand his English-speaking host family and colleagues.

In 2015, he became president of Audi Canada and today leads Audi of America, headquartered in Herndon, Va., as its president. Though it may have been quick, Weissland's career progression from intern to the C-suite did not follow a linear path. 

Weissland was apprenticing at the German Federal Railways in Munich before realizing the job wouldn't lead to the life he wanted to create. He resigned and returned to school to earn his high school diploma and attend Hochschule Munchen University of Applied Sciences in Munich.

In college, he interned at Volkswagen South Africa in Uitenhage (now Kariega), South Africa, and at Audi of America—then headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich.—before graduating in 1999.

SHRM Online talked with Weissland about the role his internships played in preparing him for his global career, which has included:

  • Moving through yearlong positions as a full-time employee at Audi AG, the company's luxury sedan product, from 1999 to 2005. He served as product manager, distribution manager for Northern Europe, dealer network development for Northern Europe, and sales manager for Ireland and Portugal.
  • Earning a master's degree in business administration from Hochschule Munchen University in 2005.
  • Progressing through other areas of Audi AG from April 2005 to August 2015: sales director and deputy managing director for Audi Volkswagen Middle East, assistant to the board of management member for marketing and sales, and area manager for Southern Europe.
  • Completing the advanced management program at the University of Navarra's IESE Business School—the University of Navarra's graduate business program—in Barcelona, Spain, in 2013.
  • Serving as president of Audi Canada in Ajax, Canada, from August 2015 to January 2018.
  • Serving as president and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada in Ajax from December 2017 to September 2019. Volkswagen is Audi's parent company.
  • Serving as president of Audi of America at its current headquarters in Herndon, Va., since September 2019.
The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.

SHRM Online: What kind of learning experiences did you have as an intern in the automotive industry?

Weissland: I worked in the department for industrial engineering. I mainly did office work, with one exception: In South Africa, many times when people got paid, they didn't show up for two or three days [after]. All the white-collar workers had to go to the assembly lines to finish those cars [in their absence]. On a normal day, they finish 100 cars; we finished 10 cars.

The workers went on strike for a few days while the factory assembly line was in the middle of preparing for the launch of the new model. It was important to clear the assembly line and finish the old models first. Since the workers went on strike, we—the corporate employees—had to help assemble the remaining old models.

It's a culture that I'd never been exposed to before, and something you need to learn. The takeaway: Be prepared for new challenges and manage it. There is no book you can read to prepare you for all situations in life, on the job or off the job.

SHRM Online: What advice can you give to students to get the most out of their internship?

Weissland: There is no linear process of a career. Be open, take opportunities as they come. Work hard and be relentless. Every day, try to do your best. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone; I remember [my] mistakes and learned a lot from that.

As a student, I was always excited about cars. I wanted to understand the business behind it. I tried to get a foot in the door; that was one of the objectives I had for my internships. That's where my passion started for the car industry. As an Audi intern, I had a little carpool I was managing for the leadership team. I had opportunities to drive those cars through the carwash and fill up the gas tank. Still today, I feel a passion for the cars.

SHRM Online: What impact did mentorship play in your career journey from intern to president?

Weissland: When I was an intern, my mentor was my boss. I'm still in touch with him; he still lives in Michigan [where Weissland interned]. He wanted to hire me at [the end of my internship], but as a student in America and a German citizen, it was not that easy at that time to get a green card or visa.

It's important for a mentor to encourage you to step outside your comfort zone. One of my mentors [later in my career] told me, "You need to learn to play all the keys on the piano if you want to be a master."

[During my U.S. internship,] one worker who started three or four weeks after me helped me a lot. I was able to get some advice on how things work. You need to rely on the team, find somebody to help you, coach you and grow within the organization.

SHRM Online: You've built your 24-year career working for Audi. It's more typical these days for people to move around. What advice can you offer to young people looking to grow their careers within a single company or industry?

Weissland: It's about loyalty. As long as I saw a career path I could develop and enjoyed working there, why should I change employers? Especially with international companies, you have tons of opportunities. I didn't see a reason to change companies just because I can make a few thousand dollars more somewhere else. I believe in the company, I believe in the values of the company, and [I created] a path for myself to grow and develop.

My advice: Be open and use the opportunities. And you need to enjoy what you're doing.


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