BMW’s Next CEO: A Big Fan of UK Workers

Three years ago when I visited BMW headquarters in Munich, in preparation for the new book I was writing with Prof. Sir Cary Cooper (and which was released in mid 2012 – see here), I did not expect to collect some information which really has significant meaning for British workers.  Instead, while I knew I would be interviewing one of the very top executives at the company, and would gather useful information about the history, values and culture of BMW which could feed well into the book contents, I unexpectedly received a gem of a quote.  With the announcement this week that the person I was talking to will become the next CEO of BMW in May, 2015, the comments he made to me take on even more significance.

BMW is of course the world leader in luxury automobiles and a powerhouse in motorcycles as well. Its namesake brand is the desire of many who wish to own great wheels, and its MINI and Rolls Royce brands, both based and manufactured in England, satisfy the needs of many others. The Hams Hall plant in the West Midlands of the UK is a supplier of four-cylinder engines for several of the BMW automobiles sold worldwide, as well as MINI.

Let me tell you about the interviewee: Harald Krüger is a member of the seven person Board of Management, which is headed by the CEO and runs the company worldwide. Herr Krüger is an interesting person, with an engineering background and at the time of our interview (summer 2011) was only 45 years old, the youngest member of the Board.  At 49 he will be the youngest CEO of any major automobile company worldwide.  Most of his career has been spent in BMW, with stints at the US plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina; in England at the Hams Hall engine factory; and in Munich. Although currently head of worldwide manufacturing, his job at the time of the interview was to head global personnel and industrial relations, which was the reason for my desire to talk to him: Harald Krüger was the person at BMW with a day-to-day responsibility to think about and talk about the company’s culture, among many other things. He ensured that human resource decisions, seen within BMW as “among the key decisions we take,” reflect the powerful values that drive that culture (and which the book details at length).  Very shortly after the personnel job he took on the motorcycle business worldwide, and was responsible for MINI and Rolls Royce in the UK.  Combined with his Hams Hall experience, this has given him some time to considers the strengths of UK workers.

As we sat on top of the famous Vierzylinder HQ building (see picture above) which sits on a major city artery in Munich, and chatted about values, culture, temporary workers, the Crash of 2008 and many related issues in relation to BMW, I asked Herr Krüger to comment on how BMW’s culture varies around the world and whether the company identifies the best cultural values and practices from its far-flung operations for use elsewhere in its system; this question was the lead-in to his comments. Here is what he said about his time in the UK:

“I lived in the UK for three and half years in Oxford: I loved living there because people were so open to change. If you just explain why we need to change they have very little resistance. In the UK, I felt that if you give people the feeling that you have your whole heart in the matter and you are thinking in the right direction, with a clear vision, I felt I always had the trust of people there.”

Now let me ask you a question: if I took out the words “Oxford” and “UK”, would you automatically know that this is the location he is referring to, from everywhere BMW operates? I don’t think so. Its not fashionable lately to praise British workers in such a way and I was, quite honestly, both quite surprised and delighted that my fellow Brits were getting this boost by a person of this significance. If the future CEO thinks this way, will it affect expansion in the UK? Well why would it not, indeed it is already starting.  Is not flexibility and openness…..lack of resistance to change….. going to be a hallmark of what will be necessary in the brutal competitive markets which lie ahead? I think so.

In these times of slow emergence from the depths of the financial crash of 2008, the announcement of Herr Krüger’s elevation to the top job at BMW is sure to bode well for its UK workforce…..

(The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE, featuring an exclusive and extensive interview with future BMW CEO Harald Krüger, was released worldwide by Palgrave-Macmillan on July 3rd, 2012)

For more information about this interview please contact me here.

Picture of Vierzylinder building is from:

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