5 Questions with Nikola Motor President Mark Russell

President Mark Russell, photo courtesy of Nikola Motor Corp.

Nikola Motor Company has made waves in the automotive market since it penetrated the industry and launched its IPO in early June. In fact, the electric-vehicle manufacturer secured a $34 billion market capitalization on its first day of trading, and surpassed Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in market cap shortly afterward. Since then, Nikola has also paved the way for additional electric-vehicle startups to enter the public sector, including Fisker Automotive and Lordstown Motor Corp. The latter today announced plans to enter the public market through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in the fourth quarter, listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker RIDE, after it cinched a $675 million merger deal with DiamondPeak Holdings.

At the helm of Nikola Motor is President Mark Russell, who recently pivoted to auto in 2019 after a 12-career in metal manufacturing. Prior to Nikola, Russell worked as the chief executive and president of Worthington Industries, an Ohio-based metal manufacturing company. 

Nikola first debuted in May 2016, according to a company statement. The company has since started pre-selling its electric semis, its light-duty pickup — the Nikola Badger — and its three powersports vehicles. The Badger, which starts at $60,000, is available for pre-order under three deposit tiers, one of which is already sold out, according to the company’s website. However, Nikola has yet to announce the release dates for its electric vehicles and whether it will provide a direct or indirect financing option for consumers, despite a note in its 2020 S-1 filing that the company was looking for a third-party financier.

Auto Finance Excellence recently sat down and emailed with Russell to ask him five questions about his company goals, the advice that has helped him earn top management roles, and more. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.

Auto Finance Excellence: What are your company goals in about 10 words or less?

Mark Russell: Transform the transportation industry while improving our employees’ lives and leaving the world a better place.

AFE: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice ever received?

MR: True engagement of hearts and minds is directly correlated to a leader’s steadfast patience, kindness and genuine emotional concern for each individual person on their team. That advice came from the canon of my faith, and I’ve found it to be true in all facets of my life, including my career.

AFE: What do you think is the most underrated lending trend?

MR: Microcredit combined with individual mentorship. My wife got me involved in a microcredit organization she supports, and over the years we’ve personally seen, in some of the world’s poorest countries, the incredible and life-changing things that are possible if people have access to a mentor, just a little bit of credit and some modicum of free enterprise and property rights. People are remarkable when they have a real chance and are given the opportunity to show what they can do. 

AFE: Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

MR: I’ve had an abundance of incredible mentors and leaders throughout my career, and I am beyond grateful for each. The most influential to this day is a phenomenal businessman and person, George Stoe. George was the last client I worked for as a lawyer, my profession by training. He pushed me to see that being an attorney could be just the beginning in my case, and then he offered me an actual non-legal role where I could stretch and grow. It’s one thing to inspire someone to dream big, it’s another to actually provide multiple opportunities over the years to prove it, and that is exactly what George has done in my life. He has been teaching, supporting and cheering me on for a quarter of a century now. I feel a strong obligation to pay that forward — to be the kind of leader and mentor that George and others have been in my life.

AFE: What’s something your employees would be surprised to learn about you? 

MR: I have a volcanic temper by nature. So much so that, when I was young, my mother sat me down to explain, in no uncertain terms, that unless I learned how to redirect that uncontrolled fire, I was destined for a life that would amount to nothing, absolutely nothing. That loving reality check was a turning point in my life. She helped me start working on how to better understand and even channel that fire into productive things. Over time, a potentially fatal weakness for me has gradually become a source of strength. I have a fire inside me that drives me to do really hard and worthwhile things. And the people I work with think I have never even lost my cool, let alone my temper. I owe that miracle to the incredible influence of God, and to the patience and kindness of my angel mother.

Auto Finance Summit, the premier industry event, returns October 20-22, 2020, as a virtual experience. The virtual experience will offer the same quality networking and education as past events, all through an online platform. To learn more about the 2020 event and register, visit www.AutoFinanceSummit.com.

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