Big interview

Wheels of steel I

BMW is one of the most distinguished car manufacturers on earth, but it would be wrong to think that it’s sticking to cruise control. Instead, it’s using the dramas of the past year to push fundamental changes to its operations, from how it sells cars to how it organises data. Andrea Valentino talks to Dr Nicolas Peter, BMW’s CFO, about how his team battled to go remote during the pandemic, how green technology is crucial to helping both the planet and the company’s balance sheet – and how digitalisation and training can help BMW stay ahead of the pack for years to come.

f you want to understand the story of Germany through the terrors and triumphs of the twentieth century, you should turn your gaze to its great companies – to Bosch and Siemens and Porsche. And, of course, to BMW. From its headquarters in Munich, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG has been witness to decades of turbulent history. In the First World War, its predecessor made aircraft engines, powering the Folkers that wobbled and coughed above the trenches. In World War II, meanwhile, it helped the war effort again. And since 1945, BMW has hugged the fortunes of its country like a blanket, from foreign occupation to economic miracle and, finally, to reunification.

“The BMW Group is continuously learning and developing, and this is one of the key aspects that has made us successful throughout our 100 year history. It’s also what we expect from our employees at all levels: the willingness to be fl exible, agile and to expand one’s scope.”

To put it another way, BMW has seen a lot. And yet the challenges of the past 18 months are surely among the toughest the company has ever faced. Consider the statistics. With dealerships closed and consumers wary to buy, BMW’s sales slumped by 8.4% in 2020. That naturally dug into the company’s profits. Last year, its pre-tax profits were €5.2bn (£4.4bn) – or nearly 27% down from 2019. And beyond the raw statistics, it goes without saying that there have been the same struggles of companies the world over, from remote work to meetings on Zoom. Yet as lockdowns ease, and the world gets on the road again – figuratively or otherwise – BMW still looks in remarkably sharp shape. For though many of its 2020 numbers were obviously disappointing, BMW has quickly rebounded. By November, for instance, the company’s share price had already recovered


much of the ground lost since Covid-19 began, giving it an impressive market cap of around €43bn (£37bn). Nor is BMW stopping there. The company’s executives have ambitious plans for the months and years to come, with everything from sales on the slate for change – with potentially revolutionary consequences for BMW’s staff and customers.

Change is in the air

If you had to pick a single BMW executive to give you a sense of the company’s present and future, you could do worse than tap Dr Nicolas Peter. A three-decade veteran at BMW, he began his career in the finance department, before becoming the group leader in corporate finance, and then the head of sales steering, process development and IT. That dovetails with wide experience at BMW offices across Europe. Over the years, Peter has worked everywhere from Belgium to Sweden to France. With such a robust grounding in the firm and its processes, then, it’s probably unsurprising that Peter rose even further – in 2017 becoming a member of the company’s board of management and CFO. With so many notches on his professional bedpost,

it’s perhaps natural that Peter would first be drawn, when reflecting on his 30 years at the heart of BMW, at just how much has changed – especially in the wake of the last year. “There has always been change in our industry, that is a part of it,” he says. “Overall, however, our business has become more complex, and this requires a deeper knowledge and flexibility. The pandemic has accelerated this process of change. The BMW Group is continuously learning and developing, and this is one of the key aspects that has made us successful throughout our over 100 year history. It’s also what we expect from our employees at all levels: the willingness to be flexible, agile and to expand one’s scope.” In a sense, of course, that’s true for all companies, big and small. But even so, BMW’s successful pivot during the pandemic is still impressive. Thanks to a monumental effort by the company’s IT department,

Finance Director Europe /

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