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BMW Group: Sustainability, inclusivity, and social responsibilities

Charlie Cooksey of Gulf Insider attends a roundtable by Ilka Horstmeier, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Human Resources and Labour Relations Director, and patron of the Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA) as she speaks about BMW and the IIA.

The BMW Group is an international, intercultural company operating in 140 countries and has production operations in over 30 countries. Intercultural, mutual understanding, and respect are their key drivers for future cooperation, as well as climate change with their sustainability strategies and social responsibilities.

The BMW Group and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) awarded ten organizations from ten countries with the Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA) at the Germman Pavilion at EXPO 2020 Dubai. The award honoured people and projects that promote diversity, tolerance, and inclusion in a creative way. Over 1,100 organizations from 120 countries applied for the award.

Why hold the IIA in Dubai?

Coinciding with the themed week on Tolerance and Inclusivity, and the International Day of Tolerance, it was the perfect place. I really liked the motto of the of the expo – “connecting minds creating future”. If you want to connect minds, you need to respect one another, therefore, I think it’s a perfect combination to have the award this year in Dubai.

How did this partnership with the United Nations (UN) come about?

Before we took the UN on board, we were always thinking on how we can create a bigger impact with the award. Giving an award is one thing, but using a partner like the UN and partnering with them with regards to the network is a totally different story.

The IIA is just the beginning of the journey for these awardees. After the award, they get a one-year program and support by BMW and UNAOC and they will join the Intercultural Leadership Network of Milan. They have a big opportunity to be part of a network to and make a bigger impact with other organizations.

We do a lot of capability building, and that’s exactly why we came to the decision in early 2010 to build up that partnership. For the UNAOC, it was one of the first projects where they cooperated as the UN with the private sector.

Do you think you’re going to set a bit of a trend now when it comes to private companies partnering with the UN, and maybe seeing other automotive companies following suit?

I won’t speak for other companies. But I think we are partnering a lot because we really believe that strengthening leadership on each and every level and in different sectors really makes a change in the world.

If you have people with the same mindset and intercultural understanding with a willingness to cooperate, I think anybody can make an impact.

When it comes to identifying leadership with BMW, is there something specific you look for in your leaders? If there’s somebody that doesn’t have the soft skills to be a leader, do you try and bring into them the potential and raise them through the corporate ladder?

I think it’s both. Of course, you need to want to be a leader. We develop the leadership skills in the company, and a lot of this is gaining experience and resilience. In our recent employee survey, we found that many were very confident in the way we managed the COVID-19 situation and in the future of the company.

Employees get coached by not only their bosses, but by different leaders from different departments and hierarchies. There’s a strong community and we also encourage team building of the leadership, so that they can exchange ideas, discuss their strengths, and work on their potentials.

Can you please tell us about how BMW is approaching woman empowerment? Is there any specific initiative for the region?

We have a global approach on that. It’s not only women empowerment, but diversity. Women empowerment for us is only one pillar of the whole diversity strategy of BMW. Inclusion for me means not only inviting somebody to a party, but wanting to dance with him. Every year, worldwide, we run a Diversity Week.

We set up a lot of initiatives which help women to manage family and business life. We also set up individual development plans, not only for women, but also for men. There are certain aspects of the individual development plan you have to keep in mind when you look at women. I’m very happy that we can encourage and support women to and push them a little towards their potential because they can do it.

In the early days of BMW did you have that sort of encouragement? Was that in place back when you first started to help push you through or was that coming from yourself?

I think as a leader, no matter male or female, you need to have that ambition. You need to be somebody who wants to take over responsibility. Otherwise you would never make it, you wouldn’t have fun doing it. I think the most important thing for a leader is that you should love the task and the responsibility to take over. I always had people giving me the right advice at the right time, who pushed me a little bit and supported me.

When I started in production, I was 27 years old. And you can imagine, by that time, there were not many women in production at BMW in sort of higher positions. So, I think you always need a little bit of support along with your ambition, and you need to want to take over responsibility, but you also need somebody who is there at the right time to give advice and open you up to a different perspective. Luckily, I had a lot of people who did this on my way.

Can you name like a specific point in your career where you had to make a really tough, challenging decision?

There were two turning points in my career. One was when I decided to go from HR to production. In HR I was always being told what to do but nobody was helping me with how to do it. The production manager asked me to come to production and help him to implement teamwork and HR related things. Everybody told me if I do this, I will never make a career at BMW because at that time, people didn’t think that going from HR to production was a good idea. That was a turning point that really left me with some sleepless nights. I had some colleagues who said if you feel this is the right way, then do it. You have to step out of your comfort zone.

The second turning point was when I was asked to take over the engine plant in Munich. By that time, I was working around production, I did logistics, and the like. But I never really led production. At that point, I said to myself, “Okay, if you want to continue and open up the opportunities for the future, you have to be the leader of a production unit, and engine production as a non-engineer.” I reflected a lot on this and then I said, “yes, if I don’t do it now, I will never do it”. You have to get out of your comfort zone. So that was the turning point. Otherwise, I would never have been the head of powertrain production and head of planting.

How is BMW decarbonizing the business and manufacturing process?

We want to reduce the CO2 footprint of our vehicles by 40% over the whole value chain. We want to ramp up to 50% electrified cars in 2013. Our target is to reduce the CO2 footprint by 80%. And the supply chain by 20%. We need green energy for usage of the cars. Otherwise, electric mobility won’t have that impact on the climate as we are intending.

We are also looking at producing our own heat and energy in our production sites. Since the beginning of this year, we only purchase green energy for our plants. We also use hydrogen, that might be a next step for our production sites.

Secondly, to reduce the CO2 footprint in the supply chain is recycling secondary material. That’s the reason why BMW at the IAA mobility showed the BMW i-vision circular, which is a car made 100% out of recycled material and recyclable material.

Do you have any plans to increase the amount of the IIA winners’ prize?

I think for me, it’s not just increasing the numbers of awardees or applicants. We had 1,100 applicants this year, which is a lot. We are now going more into the quality of support and I think that’s what we are doing in the next stage. As I said, we don’t only give the award but we support the organizations over more than a year and make them part of the Leadership Network. We are instead looking to make it more impactful and involve more people, or strengthen the network.


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