Freeman Shen is founder, CEO and chairman of WM Motor, a Shanghai-based electric vehicle company. Established in 2015, WM Motor has been called a unicorn, with investments exceeding $1 billion and multinational conglomerates such as Tencent and Baidu among its largest investors. WM Motor launched its first vehicle, the EX5, in May 2018, and deliveries started in September 2018, three short years after its founding. WM Motor is focused on providing EV solutions to middle-class customers and injecting clean-energy technologies into large segments of Chinese society.
“Freeman’s work is helping put a country of 1.3 billion people on the path to sustainability, and is forging the future of a modern and interconnected transportation infrastructure,” said Jayathi Murthy, dean of UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “I believe these are extraordinary and impactful contributions, and make Freeman Shen truly deserving of UCLA Samueli’s 2020 Alumnus of the Year award.”
Shen has had a storied career in the automotive industry, working across the globe in the U.S., Germany and China. He started his career working for the U.S. companies Eaton Corporation and Borg Warner, and went on to serve as Borg Warner China’s president from 2004 to 2007.
He has been pivotal in building the automotive industry in China, serving as vice president of Fiat Group China, as chairman of Volvo Group China, and as chairman and CEO of Shanghai Geely Zhaoyuan International, which owns the Volvo Car Corporation Worldwide.
He was also vice president and board member of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the largest car company in China, which acquired Volvo from Ford for $1.8 billion in 2010. Shen played a central role in the acquisition, which was “the first time a Chinese carmaker had acquired 100 percent of a foreign rival,” according to the New York Times.
In 2018, Shen shared insight into China’s booming economy with UCLA Samueli engineering students at the school’s Ronald and Valerie Sugar Distinguished Speaker Series. “A car is actually much more challenging than a building – it moves,” he said.
Shen originally planned to follow his father’s footsteps and become an architect, but eventually found his calling in engineering and the car industry.
Commenting on the opening up of China’s economy, Shen said, “This was the right place at the right time of history. People become successful because the timing is right. It was very easy to launch a new business 10 years ago. Now it’s much more competitive. We are trying to solve middle class family needs; we have good quality at an average price.”
Shen is known for his global vision and his faith in young people. “Freeman is a very visionary person,” said Yuan Lu, corporate vice president of Baidu. “He always thinks ahead of the people. Beyond the current horizon, [he thinks of] how the society, transportation and vehicles will evolve in the next 10 to 15 years.” It is Shen’s belief that cars should be made smart, affordable and enjoyable. When confronted with challenges, Shen tends to look inward without blaming the problems on others, according to his 16-year-old son, Jacob Shen, who credits his own positive outlook to his dad’s driven and fail-to-succeed attitude.
Shen earned a bachelor’s degree from the South China Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in civil engineering from UCLA, and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.