Volvo Hires McDonald's Chief Digital Officer as Auto Industry Faces Rapid Change

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Atif Rafiq.
Atif Rafiq.

Atif Rafiq, who was named McDonald's first chief digital officer in 2013, is leaving the fast feeder for Volvo where he will assume the role of senior VP for information technology and chief digital officer.

Mr. Rafiq will oversee the automaker's "continued digital transformation, helping to evolve how consumers interact with Volvo cars across the buying, driving, entertainment and service experience," Volvo said in a statement. Klas Bendrik, Volvo's senior-VP for Group IT, "will support Mr. Rafiq in the transition and thereafter leave Volvo Cars for a new position," the automaker stated.

"The automotive industry is changing rapidly," said Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo's president and chief executive, in the statement. "This means that Volvo must also change rapidly. Part of this involves rethinking how customers buy Volvo's cars and then how they interact with them once they have bought them. Atif is ideally qualified to speed up our development in this area."

Mr. Rafiq, 43, set up McDonald's Silicon Valley outpost in 2014 in an effort to better train and recruit digital talent. Projects he has overseen include tests of mobile ordering and payment, as well as McDonald's World Cup effort, which included an augmented reality game. Before McDonald's he held general management roles at Amazon, Yahoo, and AOL.

"We appreciate Atif Rafiq's efforts over the last several years," McDonald's said in statement. "His departure provides an opportunity to further align our structure as we accelerate the digital experience our customers want including rolling out mobile order and pay in 2017 and 2018 in the U.S. and our International Lead Markets." The world's largest restaurant company said Jim Sappington, EVP-operations, digital and technology, would now oversee all of its restaurant operations, technology and digital teams.

McDonald's recently rolled out an updated app for the United States. While the McDonald's app has been downloaded by millions of customers, it still lacks some of the sticky features that have made other chains' apps appealing to diners, such as ordering and payment. Mobile ordering and payment is available in some of McDonald's other markets and is expected to hit the U.S. next year. The company has also beefed up its social media monitoring and outreach during Mr. Rafiq's tenure.

Volvo's tech initiatives include implementing in 2017 what it describes as "the world's largest autonomous driving experiment." The effort, called Drive Me, involves putting 100 families in autonomous driving Volvos on roads around Gothenburg in Sweden. Volvo in September announced plans to set up a jointly-owned venture with automotive safety system supplier Autoliv to develop autonomous driving software. Volvo also has a deal with Uber to develop cars for autonomous driving.

"In many ways, the development of cars that are autonomous, electrified and connected overlap," Mr. Samuelsson said. "Mr. Rafiq will help ensure that all of these developments are pursued in a cohesive, strategic and technologically-advanced way."

The auto industry is facing "its biggest inflection point in literally 100 years," Mr. Rafiq said in the statement. "Whether it's new technologies like computer vision and machine learning, or changing consumer behaviours around sharing and mobility, the scope for leveraging digitization is huge. I see in Volvo a company that has fully embraced these challenges and can lead the industry into the future."

This story has been updated to include a statement from McDonald's.

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