Christopher Wehner, the Managing Director of BMW Group Asia, has been with BMW for two decades, based in BMW's Munich head offices for most of that time before being appointed to head the automaker's Asia operations in 2018. He leads BMW's operations in 13 markets across Southeast Asia, Pan Pacific Islands and South Asia. People Matters asked Christopher how he and his team are leading through this crisis: here are the highlights of the conversation.
What are your top priorities as you and your team navigate through this crisis?
My top priorities are as follows: the health and safety of our employees and customers, managing the business throughout the COVID-19 period, and planning how to resume business, in the new norm, after COVID-19. Managing the business in particular includes working more closely than ever with our partners across the 13 markets that we serve, and supporting them so that they pull through this crisis; and helping our existing customers maintain their mobility and new customers explore new mobility options after COVID-19.
Thankfully, I’m not working alone. I have a strong team that is working together to ensure that we are focusing on all of the priorities. For example, our HR and Communications teams are actively working together to ensure our employees are informed of the latest government guidelines and are kept engaged during the CB period in Singapore. At the same time, our Sales, Marketing, Aftersales and CRM teams are working together to ensure, not only the safety of our customers, but that we continue to provide them with the service they need during this period.
The crisis has thrown up some significant challenges to the auto industry. What's been working to address the disruption to supply chains?
The BMW Group has taken a staggered approach to ramping up its production locations. We started in mid-February with the joint venture plants in China and our components plants—including in Germany. In late April, we began opening our engine plants. In the first half of May, Goodwood in the UK, Spartanburg in the US and the motorcycle plant in Berlin resumed operations. These were followed by our plant in Dingolfing. In the second half of May, they will be joined by Munich, Regensburg and Leipzig, as well as Oxford, Rosslyn and San Luis Potosí. We are in continuous consultation, and collaboration, with our global supplier network to ensure seamless supply to our plants. We have always worked closely with our supplier network and this is an integral part of our business strategy.
Based on what you've been seeing in the past months, where do the main challenges lie, and what's the path forward?
This crisis confirms the importance of our digitalization strategy and the necessity for fast implementation and innovative solutions. From the back-end to the front-end, we are revamping how we engage with our employees and customers. For many years, our business has been based on physical interaction, but the new norm may not allow this in the same way.
Our employees are all working from home, and have been for a month now. We recently conducted a survey around WFH, and found that while a majority are OK with working from home, a number of our employees are finding it challenging for a variety of reasons.
Our survey also found that a majority of employees are missing physical interaction with their colleagues. As this will not be an option for some time, we regularly encourage our employees to connect with each other via phone or video conference as much as possible so they still have some sort of engagement. We’re now in the process of addressing those challenges as best as we can to ensure our employees have a quality WFH experience.
You've mentioned before that emotional intelligence is a core skill: how do you see this playing out in the new norm?
In today’s business environment where there is no physical interaction and business is based on emails, phone calls and video calls, emotional intelligence is more important than ever. Colleagues, at all levels, need to learn how to “read” each other over digital channels, which is not easy. This is just another “new norm” we need to adjust to, and sooner rather than later.
What are some ways you've been able to leverage existing strategies or even organisational culture to keep things going smoothly?
Leadership, Openness, Trust, and Appreciation are important cultural values within our organisation. We have a strong leadership team that continues to empower each individual to take responsibility for achieving our common goal. At the same time, we are collaborating more than ever across business units to determine new and innovative ways to run our business.
During these difficult times, leadership and a strong team are essential to keeping the team motivated.
How are you and the rest of your leadership team adapting your personal styles to better handle the situation?
My leadership team and I are used to working with our teams, in person. During this period, we’ve had to improve how we work virtually with them, keep them motivated, and continue to deliver results. If we weren’t comfortable with video conferencing, we are now. We do our best to maintain social contact and never lose our sense of humor!