Stanford GSB Taps Tesla for Executive Program Customer Innovation Project

Tesla Motors collaborates with global executives to reinvent the car-buying experience in the Customer-Focused Innovation program at Stanford GSB.

September 01, 2009

Tesla Motors will collaborate with executives from around the world to reinvent the car-buying experience as part of the Customer-Focused Innovation executive education program at Stanford GSB.

Tesla, a pioneer in electric vehicle manufacturing, will be featured as a weeklong class project to immerse participating executives in the practice of corporate innovation and “design thinking.” Developed by Stanford GSB and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, Customer-Focused Innovation marries business school classroom models with the d-school’s hands-on field research to help executives better understand customer experiences, develop deeper customer insights, diffuse customer learning throughout their organizations, and improve overall customer satisfaction. The program, aimed at senior-level executives, will take place November 8-13, 2009.

“Tesla’s participation allows us to bring real world innovation into the classroom for our executive participants,” says Stanford Business School organizational behavior professor Hayagreeva Rao, who codirects Customer-Focused Innovation with Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at the Stanford Engineering School. “This program fuses the idea of so-called ‘clean models’ of the business school classroom with the ‘dirty hands’ of the design school process. Combining these will be a powerful experience.”

The collaboration will allow Tesla, which has already delivered about 700 cars and takes showroom concepts from retailers such as Starbucks and Apple, to gain extra insight from Stanford academics and participating executives, who typically specialize in R&D, product design and development, marketing, and customer service. Design expert Perry Klebahn, the inventor of the modern snowshoe and an associate consulting professor at the, will be working closely with participants on the Tesla project during the program. Klebahn is founder and former CEO of Atlas Snowshoes, former COO of Patagonia, and former CEO of Timbuk2.

Key features of the Stanford collaboration will have program participants:

  • Conduct interviews of Tesla’s key management and dealership personnel
  • Observe real car buyers at Tesla and non-Tesla dealerships
  • Ideation, design, prototyping and iteration of new vehicle purchase models
  • Present proposed models to Tesla management

“We are rethinking almost every aspect of the automobile — including the retail experience,” said Tesla CEO and Product Architect Elon Musk. “The Stanford project will provide additional vision and wisdom as we spearhead our North American and European expansion. This is a great example of a creative collaboration between private industry and academia in Silicon Valley.”

By Barbara Buell

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