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Hyundai’s Erwin Raphael says your ‘crazy idea’ is likely the next big thing

(Photo Courtesy: Erwin Raphael)

(Photo Courtesy: Erwin Raphael)

When Erwin Raphael assumed his position as Hyundai’s general manager for Genesis USA, it was more than a dream come true. He’s always been fascinated by cars, but he never imagined that he’d be able to have a career that delivered as much fun and excitement that a video gamer enjoys.

“I grew up in the Virgin Islands. I had a great childhood,” he starts. “There are seven of us. I sat on the porch with my six brothers and we’d watch cars come down the road and we’d identify them by make, model and year and even what engine it had. This job is more than I could have ever dreamed.”

Raphael has held this appointed executive seat since March 1, 2016. As general manager of the newly formed organization, he’s responsible for the strategic direction and management of Genesis operations in the United States, including sales and marketing.

“As a kid. I didn’t know this job existed. I spent much of my childhood reading books and magazines to learn about cars. With the advent of the Internet, it has made research a lot easier,” says the Buckeyes fan. “I learned how to design cars, how to build cars, how to engineer cars and how to sell cars.”

Raphael has been at Hyundai for the last six years, serving in various roles. Most recently he was the western region director and general manager for Hyundai Motor America where he was responsible for overseeing the operations of more than 165 Hyundai dealerships in the 12 western-most states. He’s held other leadership positions at Chrysler, Toyota Motor Manufacturing and International Truck and Engine Co. He holds undergraduate and advanced degrees from Ohio State University in math, chemistry and economics.

“I’m delighted to assume the position of general manager for the Genesis brand. It’s the first true premium brand launched in America,” he enlightens.

When asked how this brand speaks to consumers, he shares. “Executives are busy. Time is a commodity you only have so much. We try to provide an experience for that busy executive where the time they’ve spent with us is valued and enjoyable. Within Genesis, we have leading technology and the best product. We understand our customer, their time and their value. We have an exciting lineup of new vehicles on the way that will deliver on product needs and experience.”

In addition to his operations roles at Hyundai, Raphael is a founding member and co-chair of Hyundai’s Diversity Council where he advocates for greater dealer diversity, and multicultural marketing.

Here’s his take on how diversity is tied to innovation. “Diversity is the biggest contributor for innovation. If you have a group of people in the room and they all think the same way, you are going to be very limited on the product and services you can provide. If you have a diverse set of people in the organization throwing out ideas, you are going to end up with a great idea. The best way to get a great idea is having a bunch of good ideas.”

How do you get those ideas flowing? 

“People have to be free and comfortable. None of the great innovations came from a conversation where there innovation wasn’t challenged. There was someone in the room who said that idea is crazy and won’t work. Leadership is simple to define but can be complex. You must allow out-of-the-box ideas that sound goofy and crazy; every so often you will get one that is crazy good and that’s what we’re looking for. We have meetings where the conversation starts with “I know this is a crazy idea …” I do it myself a lot. The meeting ends with, that wasn’t such a crazy idea; let’s do it. It only sounds crazy at first because you don’t have all the puzzle pieces to make the idea a reality. If you get other people in the room with an open mind, they can take the crazy idea, process it and make it fit. Who would have thought 20 years ago that we’d use phones for the many tasks we have today. Not many people use a phone just to talk. I will take a chance and say every major invention started out as a real crazy idea, someone laughed at it, the experiment failed and then boom here it comes the next big thing.”

Genesis G90

This summer, Raphael will oversee the introduction of the Genesis G90, a sleek, new large luxury sedan that has been awarded 5-star ratings for safety and design. Industry insiders expect Genesis will be heavy competition for Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW in the U.S. market.

A U.S. Army veteran, Raphael is also credited with creating a stronger relationship between Hyundai and veterans returning from combat.