Before working at BMW, Hildegard Wortmann work for Unilever and Calvin Klein. However, it was her experience there that led to her hiring at BMW and, in turn, the revival of MINI. Wortmann joined the BMW team in 1998, right before the acquisition of the MINI brand, after dissolving Rover.
“I gave the BMW marketing head at the time a call to ask if they had anything I could work on, and he said in a very true deep Bavarian tone ‘come along and have a chat’, which I did. A couple of weeks later I had a contract. I was very fortunate that everything fell into place.” said Wortmann in an interview with Business Review Europe. Now, she’s the Senior Vice President of Product Management and Brand.
It was her work at both Unilever and Calvin Klein that made BMW feel she was the right person to work on the MINI project. “One reason why BMW took me on board was to bring a different approach into automotive, this having come from Unilever and Calvin Klein,” Wortmann said. “For me it was a once in a lifetime chance to be allowed to relaunch a brand with such an amazing history and personality. We had to change a lot to make sure it remained relevant and worthwhile for modern times.”
Wortmann saw the potential in BMW acquiring MINI, as the brand heritage of the famous British brand worked well with BMW’s. She was able to basically start from scratch with MINI. “I have a huge amount of respect for what the MINI brand stood for, and on the other hand seeing what our engineers did on the product was fantastic. We soon realized what extraordinary potential the brand still had to offer. It was a raw diamond in my hand which we treated like a new start-up company within BMW.”
A big reason why BMW brought Wortmann along is her ability to blend branding and product development. “Why did we do it? The product and brand in one hand allows us to start with the communications thinking and brand positioning at the earliest possible opportunity i.e. the stage we start developing a product. Everything stems and starts from the brand, and we can put this in practice now.”
A lot has been said, recently, about the actual brand of BMW. It’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” title has started to wane in the eyes of enthusiasts who feel that the brand is focusing more on luxury and technology, rather than performance. However, Wortmann feels that the brand of BMW is very important and is a promise to the fans.
“In the proper sense, a brand is something you promise,” she explains. “A promise in today’s times where customers look for orientation and have an explosion of choices becomes ever more complex. It’s a matter of trust in which you can invest and rely on.”
Though Wortmann does say that a brand can evolve and experiment with new ideas, so long as the core values remain. “Customers understand a lot of different experimentations and changes, but value the core. Brands cannot be fake, as customers see straight through it. Brands should have a purpose over a long period of time but at the same time we should not stand still.”
As per usual, Wortmann is asked about the male-dominated world that is the auto industry. “I don’t think of automotive as being a male-dominated industry,” she says. “The old metal sheet stuff has completely transformed into digital technologies. You can change, create and influence at will.” She goes on to talk about her team and how it’s built of the best people for the job, regardless of anything else. “I want to have the best people in a high performance team which is passionate and motivated. I have some fantastic women in my team and also some fantastic men too.”
She also believes the now is the time for people to join the automotive industry. With all of the changes going on at the moment, with the switch to electrification and automation, that the industry is bigger than ever and growing. “Everything is possible, you just have to grab it and do it. The only person who can hinder that is yourself. If something goes wrong, what is the worst that can happen? In most cases, the answer to that is nothing.” said Wortmann.
As Antonio Brown would say, business is booming.