The Next 100 Years


On 7 March 2016, the BMW Group celebrates its 100th anniversary. Our title is the motto that the official BMW site boldly shows to the world in the image above: it is whatever but a look at the rear view mirror.

What can we get instead, looking back at some lessons we can learn about management? This case is a great metaphor for whomever is interested in business strategy and governance, as well as in personal and professional improvement.

Let’s see.

Be yourself. Born as an aircraft business, they set those engineering needs for details, results, cutting-edge technology and safe design nearly automatically in the automotive business’ heroic times. This history is shared by other excellent brands, say Rolls-Royce and Alfa Romeo. Another or mixed approach to even more outstanding results can be seen in Ferrari and other Italian car makers who made the glory of the automotive industry, starting from a crafts idea and a passion for beauty transferred into a running and roaring piece of art.  Meaning what? All the “innovation theory” in mass market tech, management or professional activities is just marketing these days. You must have a history behind instead. First of all, think about what is yours.

Don’t forget your identity. This helped them to go through difficult times after the second world war. After a few years, they came back and nearly created the “premium for many” segment with other brands, like Lancia and Alfa Romeo. Their “Sheer driving pleasure” and “The ultimate driving machine” declarations define very well as they wanted to be perceived. Dangerously disappointing if not really delivered to final clients. Please note the importance of the word “driving”. The message is: you need nothing more, you are in perfect control and you get a lot of fun. Meaning what? Don’t even try to enter a market or approach clients if you don’t know who you are and why you exist as a business or a professional.

Evolve. Others with the same historical background evolved in supercars makers. It is interesting to notice how, while Lancia is nearly no longer on the radar because of having tried, riskily, to broaden the target, Alfa Romeo is taking again the winning road of Maserati and Ferrari, focusing on creating supercars too, like the astonishing little 4C. The English brands disappeared, or better said, the few still alive have become “commercial brands” and the ownership has gone lost, whatever the product’s merit. Their original sin: to stay attached to crafts only, accepting to lose control on pieces of the system. BMW has defined itself as a benchmark instead, in a well focused market area. In its business its only concern may be Italian boutiques at high end level of its products portfolio. Meaning what? “Change” is a mythology. You just follow your way being faithful to whom you are. But don’t expect things are the same tomorrow, so create the road that is better for you.

Leave the others on your tracks. After BMW had that idea others thought it was interesting. Nobody used the word “premium” thirty years ago. So VW revived Audi’s reputation nearly from scratch, and Mercedes started running in the area that BMW opened, trying to leave behind the image of dependable taxis that was diminishing past glories: they slowly turned to a somehow sporty self-definition. If BMW had been alone in the game, there wouldn’t be a market segment. And looking like a follower is not an advantage for the others. “Wow, great, looks like a BMW” is not nice to hear as it may seem. Meaning what? Who cares of what others do? Look ahead. 

Stay independent. BMW control and command levers are said to stay in the hands of few, and the basic identity of family business has been kept. Another example of this winning choice has been FCA. After all, FCA bought Chrysler, not the other way around. Meaning what? Don’t be politically correct regarding your business and assets. Delegate what is not critical, but central control is, by definition.

In the end, we aren’t talking about this German carmaker more than about our own road to success. We can’t say if they really have 100 years ahead, if their hybrid challenge will deliver, if they will get and show what they want to promise.

We don’t care. We are not talking about cars or the automotive industry after all.

While they stare at “next 100 years”, we look back and ponder on their way to establish a performing business and keep it alive and kicking instead.


The author has no professional connection with any of the brands cited in the article.  


One Comment on “The Next 100 Years”

  1. […] Ugo Micoli examines BMW Group’s coming Centenary, as a look back and as an affirmation of identity, evolution, and independence. […]


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