Program Management at Xos: Turning Ideas Into Action
At Xos, we take immense pride in the diverse team we’ve built. Xosians come from all walks of life and from all over the world. Today, we’re excited to feature our director of program management, Sara Montalat Verdú — a crucial member of our product team who has been instrumental in managing our vehicle programs for our stepvan, MDXT,™ and HDXT™, and getting them off the ground and into production. Read on to learn more about Sara, her Catalan roots, background in engineering, and what excites her about the future of electric vehicles.
Tell us about your background and experience. How did you get into program management?
I started my career as a process engineer. While doing my mechanical engineering degree, I started working for a tier one company developing and manufacturing fuel pipes for the auto industry. It was fun: I spent most of my time boots on the ground with hands full of grease, adjusting tools, and rethinking manufacturing processes, trying to take out that final second of takt time while wearing a cute outfit. I felt proud to be the only female engineer during most of my degree among 50 people, and to be able to find my place early in my career in a very male dominated industry. This helped inform my dream of seeing more women join us in the technical space.
What I realized is I love optimizing processes and finding efficiencies, finding that extra second, day, or week that we can get rid of to be faster, and turning a concept into reality. I was also leading multiple projects at once, and mastering time management and prioritization of my own tasks as well as my team’s to reach a common goal.
I wanted to transition more into the business side so I enrolled in a master’s in management engineering that gave me my first official introduction to program management. There I realized I was already doing most of it at my current job and I knew that was where I wanted my career to grow into. I also was willing to do whatever it took to reach my ultimate goal to get into the EV industry. I’ve always been fascinated by automotive, and I also wanted to work for a company that was doing good for the planet, so I left everything behind so I could move to a place where I could continue growing as a PM while getting into the EV industry — California.
My first job in the EV world and in the U.S. was for a local EV company where I was the PM lead on the vehicle energy services team while also building out the program management office where I worked for a few years. I had received an introduction to Gio, our co-founder and COO at Xos, and after one interview, I knew I wanted to work for him at Xos. I like his leadership approach; he always has his feet on the ground and doesn’t sugar coat. I joined Xos as a Technical Program Manager in July 2021, and was recently promoted to Director of Program Management, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
The opportunity at Xos is huge, not only for what our products mean for the industry and the planet, but in being able to establish a brand new, top notch project management office (PMO). I think it’s incredibly important that a company of our size has a group of people that ensures all projects get executed at the highest quality. I saw this opportunity at Xos and realized that I could make an impact. I recognized that the company was growing rapidly and I appreciated Gio’s leadership style, so I felt it was a great time to join the company.
What have been your biggest projects that you’ve worked on while at Xos?
The biggest project for the PM team and I has been to get the vehicle and system development programs across the finish line. More specifically, I’ve been responsible for keeping our two new vehicle programs, MDXT™ and HDXT™, as well as our current stepvan product moving along as I work closely with Steve Ivsan, my manager and head of PMO, to continue creating and executing the vision for the PMO team to be more efficient at leading programs every day.
What are your biggest priorities for the next year?
My biggest priority is ensuring all current and new programs are executed before time and meeting the industry and customer expectations, while seeing a positive margin. I also want to ensure that we’re implementing processes that allow us to easily replicate what worked and improve on what didn’t work. Last but not least is investing in my team to hire, develop, and retain the best Program Managers. A company is only as strong as its team members and I believe in investing in your employees so people feel supported and valued, and feel that there is a path for growth.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting into program management?
I would encourage them to do some reflection and keep working on their people, communication, influencing, organization, multi-tasking, and prioritization skills as those incredibly important when working in program management. Overall we have to turn chaos and ideas into an actionable plan and find ways to create time — easy, right?
Where can we find you when you’re not at work? What does a typical Saturday look like for you?
My weekends are my time to break with schedules. Recently, I’ve remodeled my apartment and filled it with fun vintage furniture. I also love spending time with my friends, hanging out with my dog, Sox (I didn’t name him after Xos, it was just fate), and going on hikes. Another favorite hobby I have is painting. It’s a great way for me to de-stress and be creative. Lastly, skydiving or anything that gives high adrenaline! Next on my bucket list is bungee jumping.
What’s your favorite quote?
It’s not a quote but it’s a poem called Invictus by William Earnest Henley; it gives me so much strength. One of the lines in the poem reads, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” and I absolutely love it. I’m a true believer that you are in control of your life and your destiny. As humans, we are always under construction; always improving and working to do and be better.