Aldo Monteforte applied to the Stanford Sloan Master’s Program (now called the Stanford MSx Program) to gain the tools needed to help take his company, Cobra Automotive Technologies, and turn it from a midsize manufacturer of electronic components for cars into a major provider of automotive services.
Monteforte began his career in investment banking, but realized that he was advising entrepreneurs when he’d rather be an entrepreneur and create a product or service himself. When he learned about an investment opportunity in Varese, Italy-based Cobra Automotive, he switched careers, using his savings to take a meaningful minority stake and becoming co-CEO.
But he wanted to round out his expertise and his resources. “While I was well-versed on the financial side of the business, I was completely unprepared in terms of general management: how to motivate people, and think of product and marketing and strategy from a company point of view,” Monteforte says. “I wanted to immerse myself in a period of intense exploration and understanding of management issues, and I wanted to do it in a place where technology is key and is well-understood. Stanford was a natural choice.”
So, a couple of years into his new position, Monteforte enrolled in the Stanford Sloan Master’s Program, a one-year, full-time general management program for experienced leaders offered by Stanford Graduate School of Business. He set an ambitious goal: to not only increase the company’s revenues, but also transition it from selling car alarms and parking sensors to offering a subscription service for recovering automobiles in the event of a theft. In the process, he hoped to elevate Cobra to the best-known brand for vehicle security.
“There was hardly a class I took at Stanford GSB that didn’t play a part in transitioning Cobra to the point where it is today,” he says.
Famous and Influential Voices
It wasn’t just the course content that shaped Monteforte’s education, however. He was also greatly influenced by the accomplished leaders who visited the Stanford campus: the Dalai Lama, for one, and prominent investors and CEOs such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. At the 2005 graduation ceremonies, Steve Jobs gave a now-famous commencement speech.
“I saw that these were all just normal people who achieved what they did not by destiny or being endowed with a special gift, but by being committed, hard-working, and passionate. It was a very empowering insight,” Monteforte reflects.
“I think that rather than a particular formula or something technical, what the Stanford experience impressed on me is that it pays off to aim as high as possible. When you can articulate a compelling vision, some people will take notice of your commitment. Help will come from unexpected sources, and events may start to unfold in your favor in response to hard work. Then the impossible can happen,” he says.
Monteforte aimed high when he returned to Cobra, and the results were impressive. Cobra became Europe’s leading provider of stolen-car recovery systems, and Cobra systems are used in nearly every high-end car in Europe today. (The company, which went public in 2006, was acquired by Vodafone in 2014 and is now called Vodafone Automotive.)
Navigating Into New Territory
Several years later, Monteforte started to see new opportunities to use data to transform the way that insurance companies manage risk and relate to their policyholders. He left Cobra and in 2012 co-founded The Floow, which collects, processes, and interprets drivers’ data for auto insurers. For example, an auto insurer might learn from The Floow that a driver uses her car only for short-distance commuting on city streets and subsequently adjust her rate.
The Sheffield, England-based enterprise has now grown from three to 120 professionals across Europe and the United States, and serves 25 of the world’s largest 100 automobile insurance brands. The company, controlled by Monteforte and his management team, raised $17 million last year from Chinese private investment conglomerate Fosun.
Monteforte notes that the proliferation of sensors has generated enormous opportunities to deliver data-driven services: Sensors and software enable the observation of behavior and the assessment of risk, and companies can then create tools that reduce end users’ risk. He is now tackling the challenge of building a bench of leaders that will enable The Floow to provide people with these life-saving tools.