Subscriber OnlyWorkWild Geese

‘With my surname, everyone assumed I was German and fluent in the language. I hadn’t a word’

Wild Geese: Steven Stein, Barcelona

From the time he was a child, Steven Stein loved cars. So, when the time came to choose a career, he didn’t have to think twice. It had to be something to do with cars and the automotive technology course at what was then DIT Bolton Street looked like a good place to start.

In the past, those graduating from the course tended to gravitate towards the retail motor trade or they joined an importer. Stein chose the second route and his first job was with the then Irish importers for Volkswagen, Motors Distributors.

Motors Distributors favoured developing its talent in-house, and employees were expected to work their way up the ranks in the hope of landing a senior role with one of the brands. In late 2008, however, this all changed dramatically when VW took over responsibility for its Irish operations from Motors Distributors.

For career-minded individuals such as Stein, the transfer of power was positive. The company’s new boss was from corporate headquarters, meaning there was a good chance that young, high-performing individuals would get noticed by the parent company – something less likely to have happened under Irish control.


Stein was area manager for Skoda at the time and part of the team responsible for the marque’s growing success in Ireland on the back of a strong line-up of new models.

In 2012 he got his first big opportunity to shine under the new regime when he became regional manager for Audi. Within three years he was promoted to head of after-sales and it was this move that was to prove the catalyst for what has since become an international career within the VW group culminating in his most recent move to Spain as global director digital business for Seat’s high-performance Cupra brand.

Ireland began to make a name for itself within Audi for breaking new ground. For example, we were the first Audi market to have online service booking with prepayment and this got noticed in Germany

“Being head of after-sales for a market means you’re in on all the planning meetings at HQ and you get good exposure for what you’re doing,” he says. “I had taken on extra responsibilities in areas such as digitalisation, connected car and ecommerce for the brand in Ireland and that brought me into contact with many different departments in Germany.

“I seized the challenges the role offered, and Ireland began to make a name for itself within Audi for breaking new ground. For example, we were the first Audi market to have online service booking with prepayment, and this got noticed in Germany,” says Stein.

“To be part of the global motor industry means having experience in right-hand drive markets and/or at headquarters. In 2018 I got offered two jobs at pretty much the same time, one in the UK, one in Germany. I took the HQ job because it was the stepping stone into the global market.

“The job was head of after-sales digitalisation for Audi, and I moved to Munich in 2018. I was chosen for the job because they wanted to put a more business-orientated person into the role rather than a tech person. The only slight drawback was that, with my surname, everyone assumed I was German and fluent in the language, and I hadn’t a word at the time.”

Stein immersed himself in his new job, taking on added responsibilities, and in 2021 the hard work paid off when he was promoted to a more senior management cadre within the company as director of digital services, new business development and support.

Some might have sat back and enjoyed the ride, but Stein has a basic rule that has served him well in his career to date. “It’s called ‘three plus two’, by which I mean that you should do a leadership role for three years but not for longer than five,” he says.

“If you stay for three years then you’re there long enough to be accountable for the decisions you make, whereas after five you can become too set in your ways and decision making. In a big corporation, it’s easy to make decisions that make you look good on PowerPoint and then to change jobs within 12-18 months, which means that, if your decisions have a negative impact, you’re already in the next role and can escape them. That’s not good for the organisation or for your team.”

Stein was due to reach his “three plus two” years with Audi earlier this year and, true to form, he had begun thinking about his next move. As it turned out, it was to be a big one involving a new country and a new brand.

“One of my previous managers had moved to Seat, and he contacted me at the end of last year with an offer to head the complete digital business at Cupra, based in Barcelona,” says Stein. “This was a really attractive proposition as, up to then, I had been responsible for aspects of Audi’s digital business, not all of it, and I had always felt we could do so much more if we took a more holistic approach.”

Stein moved to Spain in July with his wife and young son and says there is probably one more big move to go before he starts thinking seriously about his long-term future.

“These kinds of big moves are highly pressurised because you work very long hours, and that’s tough on your family,” he says. “However, the next five to seven years are going to be transformative for the automotive industry and I’m quite keen to stick around for that.”