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8Th March 2021

We develop smartphones on wheels

He started right after school as a trainee, now he leads a team of fifty people who deal with the electronics of all ŠKODA models in the Czech Republic and abroad. As Tomáš Dlabaja says, the automotive industry is now going through a brutal revolution. But if you google his name, you will find more than just his career profile.

Tomáš, there is a Wikipedia page about you.

I see you found it. This is the work of the Czech Orienteering Association I was running for several years.

You were running at a competitive level and represented the Czech Republic at international competitions. In 2012, you won the gold medal for the relay at the World Championships in Lausanne and you won at other races too…

You know, I wanted to get closer to my dream. When I was twelve, I was invited as a talented student to Prague for the World Cup. It took place in the Stromovka park and even though I was just a spectator at that time, the atmosphere was amazing. The Czech national team won! That was one of the important moments when I started dreaming of becoming a professional athlete. I started regular training, later I travelled around the world and gained experience from international races. And I went up in small steps.

And so you eventually became a professional athlete.

Yes and no. In the Czech Republic, there is a big difference between Olympic and non-Olympic sports. The Olympic can be done quite easily as they are more supported. Unfortunately, orienteering is not one of them, so I couldn’t fully dedicate myself to doing it. I worked and studied at the same time. However, I went to Sweden and Finland to study, where orienteering is supported by the country and sponsors. Thanks to that, for a few years I competed for the world’s best clubs. However, I was still something of a semi-professional.

At the same time, our Czech “semi-professional” team was able to beat even complete professionals from all over the world.

Yeah, it was the first and only time in history so far. In short, a great success! When we won that gold medal in Lausanne, we could barely believe it and thought that it was perhaps just a dream.

Tomáš Dlabaja

Tomáš Dlabaja

Automotive Electronics Coordinator, mentor of the Tech Trainee program

He started at ŠKODA AUTO in 2013 as a mechanical engineer. “But I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a real designer, so I signed up for the Trainee program, which allowed me to try working in different areas in one year,” he describes. He went through several departments such as Development, Project management and then After-sales. “I collected feedback and data from a customer network around the world which helped us find ways to increase brand satisfaction,” he recalls. He then worked at the international guarantees department, where he dealt with guarantee processes with importers. “And then they called me from the factory saying I got a recommendation from the Trainee program. I decided to take advantage of that unexpected offer.”
He was so impressed by the production that he has been working there for six years. He first specialised in electromobility, later oversaw the assembly technology, and now coordinates a team of fifty people who deal with the electronics of all ŠKODA models, both in the Czech Republic and abroad.
Shortly after winning the relay in Lausanne, you even completed your doctorate. Did anything surpass these successes?

That’s a difficult question, I don't know yet what my greatest satisfaction is. In my opinion, every success has two levels. The first one can be measured with figures and completed projects, the other one by a sense of achievement in the team. Its members should feel the satisfaction, motivation and good atmosphere just like you. You can win a gold medal, but when there aren’t on good terms with the team, such success has a bitter taste. Or you can have a happy team that runs just for fun, doesn't want medals and all they need to do is go for a beer together after training. In sports and ŠKODA, I always consider both the objective and the human level of our achievements. Everyone has something to offer, so it is difficult to choose the only success that I consider to be key.

Do you manage to keep a good atmosphere in the team while achieving objective success even now that you coordinate the development of automotive electronics?

We are in an extremely difficult situation. Companies alternate between periods of calm and storms. And we are in one now. The coronavirus pandemic shook our plans. For instance, there have been delays in the delivery of components for individual vehicles. We have to improvise a lot and look for new solutions to keep the production going. At the same time, we are intensively working on ways to produce new cars full of smart electronics, which differ significantly from the previous models. The construction and bringing a car to life for the first time is becoming more and more complicated. We basically produce smartphones on wheels and need to adapt the production process for that. We are facing some huge challenges at the moment.

In the 2019 interview, you mention that even difficult situations can be enriching.

That is true. Every crisis is interesting in that you are building something new. You are experiencing a situation you have not encountered before, and you are learning from it for the future. Moreover, the crisis must end one day. And I believe that we will eventually finish this extremely long marathon run.

Tomáš Dlabaja

The scheme of car electronics serves as a training ground for Tomáš Dlabaj and his team.

I've noticed that you often compare work life to sports.

The two have a lot in common. Sport provides great preparation for a career, provided you really gave it something, worked hard and learned to overcome obstacles and discomfort. And also you experience losses if you want to win. Similar feelings come at work. Misunderstandings, obstacles, unpleasant moments. Orienteering and finding the fastest way to the goal taught me to constantly look for new ways to succeed. Once you've won, you can't stand still and think that after winning a medal this year, you'll be able to do the same the next year. Instead of warm weather, it can get cold or rainy and the conditions for the race will be completely different. You have to be resourceful and look for innovative strategies. In short, you still face challenges and learn both in sports and at work.

Do you use sports-inspired comparisons when communicating with your team?

I do, I believe it improves understanding. Especially for beginners. When new trainees join my team and they don't know the company yet, I explain to them that the team works like a football team. There are captains, someone is more of a striker and another part of ​​the company is perhaps playing the defence. We each have different roles and different priorities, but we can only win together.


What is the Tech Trainee program?

It’s a unique opportunity to get to know ŠKODA AUTO from all sides. The Tech Trainee program lasts a year and is designed for graduates of technical universities who will be able to try working at various company departments, from Development to Production. They always work under the guidance of an experienced mentor and after completing the program usually take up a specific position. This is what the perfect start to a career looks like!

After all, the Trainee program is inextricably linked to you. You graduated in 2014 yourself, now you lead trainees as a mentor. What do you see as your most important role?

Inspiring their interest in my field. Now I have two trainees in the team, and although they have the opportunity to rotate with other departments, I believe that they will join my team with great gusto and motivation. After all, we are opening twenty new job positions! We need young talents and a fresh perspective.

What if they end up liking another mentor more?

I wouldn’t mind. Everyone has to figure out which team suits them best and which field fulfils them the most. After all, even for me, the Trainee program was mostly about finding myself. Before deciding where to anchor, it is simply good to know as many ports as possible. If the trainee does not strengthen my team, but my partners’ team instead, it is still a benefit for ŠKODA.

You lead fifty people, so you have a huge responsibility. Where do you find the time to train new team members?

I just have to find it. If I want to keep developing my department, I need people who are as enthusiastic and motivated as I am. For example, the Trainee program represents an opportunity to develop such colleagues. In return, we offer them a great opportunity to develop themselves. Production is now going through a brutal revolution, bringing us new experience every day. Here I like to use the following metaphor: so far, we have produced push-button mobile phones, now we are moving to touch screens and smartphones. At ŠKODA AUTO, we are advancing the digital revolution and shaping the future of the automotive industry. Who wouldn't want to be a part of it?


Tech Trainee program through the eyes of participants

Two current trainees from Tomáš Dlabaja's team revealed what they like best about the program.

Matthew Dimmock

Matthew Dimmock

“The Trainee Program is an opportunity to get to know the world of production better before I focus on one area. Right now, I'm sitting in the office in the middle of the assembly hall, so I see lines running all around me and cars being assembled. Being able to be in direct contact with technology is amazing. Also, I will learn a lot of things beyond the field I studied.”
Marek Šikola

Marek Šikola

“I was attracted by the opportunity to try working in various departments, from development through production to the quality of the electric car. Thanks to these rotations, I will find out which direction will be the right one for me in ŠKODA AUTO. I am currently in a team that takes care of coding control units during production. We also analyse possible electronic defects of the car. It is fascinating to be at the birth of the first ŠKODA AUTO electric car. I feel like I'm creating the future now.”

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