What Drives a BMW Executive?
Last month, we visited the BMW Group Technology Office in Mountain View, CA to conduct a customer interview with Uwe Higgen, Managing Partner of BMW iVentures and former Head of BMW Group Technology USA. The profile below is based on our interview, where Uwe discusses his early beginnings at BMW, finding inspiration in innovation and how he gets his team aligned.
An Early Fit
For most 16-year olds, determining what to do with your career is difficult and daunting. For 16-year old Uwe Higgen, the choice was clear from the beginning: working at one of the most innovative automotive manufacturing companies in the world.
The deciding factor? Driving a BMW for the first time in his hometown in Germany.
“It made me realize how cool BMW is,” recalls Uwe. “Seeing and feeling this awesome product, being able to drive it on the street — it was really motivating.”
At 18, after short stints in academia and electronics, Uwe still had his heart set on automotive. It was no surprise that after graduating, he snagged an apprenticeship in the automotive production industry to further fuel his passion for building things. When Uwe finally visited the BMW Research & Development center in Munich, it was a match made in (automotive) heaven.
“People were nice and really pragmatic. Their main values were being innovative and building cool products and experiences,” says Uwe.
“And it wasn’t just talk. They were all about executing.”
That was almost 16 years ago, when BMW offered Uwe his first position as a software developer and the company was still “metal-bending oriented.” Since then, Uwe has taken on various roles within the company, from managing its Telematics Controls Unit to heading its Group AppCenter.
Throughout his tenure, Uwe has witnessed — and been part of — a complete paradigm shift within BMW, where the company has evolved to keep up with rapid innovations in technology. While working with the telematics unit, Uwe was responsible for connecting consumer electronics and automotive, dealing with production and field issues while still being innovative at the same time. Under his leadership, the team introduced Bluetooth to BMW vehicles worldwide. Then, heading the Group AppCenter, Uwe built teams in Munich, Shanghai and Mountain View to integrate a variety of apps into vehicle dashboards, including Pandora, GoPro and Spotify.
A huge part of Uwe’s roles at BMW has been to bridge traditional and innovative ways of thinking, as well as long-term and short-term thinking about product features. According to Uwe, it’s about bringing these things together to have the latest and greatest offerings. So, when he was asked to move to BMW’s office in Mountain View, it wasn’t a tough decision.
“I was already inspired by the Silicon Valley mindset: great culture, fast-paced, diverse. On my first day here, I already began to build my network,” he says. “I wanted to broaden my scope and bandwidth, and prepare myself to take on projects like electronics infotainment, autonomous driving and more.”
Inspired by Innovation
It was surprisingly easy — and immediate — for us to realize what drives Uwe to come to work every day. All it took was one question: what is BMW working on?
Instead of throwing a well-rehearsed one-liner, Uwe led us through eight posters lining the office’s transparent, Silicon Valley-esque windows, each of which detailed a different team and project within BMW. With infectious enthusiasm, he highlighted current trends, different team’s mission statements and exciting product roadmaps.
Whether it was digitalization or sustainability or BMW’s plans for autonomous driving, Uwe knew it all — and loved talking about it. Standing before us wasn’t an executive selling a product; it was a person driven by a genuine passion for innovation and building new things.
In fact, according to Uwe, BMW is all about passion and delivery:
“We don’t say, ‘This feels risky so maybe we shouldn’t do it.’ We say, ‘No, I believe in this. I want to do this. I want to bring it.’”
This is the mindset that continually motivates Uwe to get out of bed every day: “It’s a great company with forward-thinking leadership. We are all fighting for the best product, the best quality, the best customer experience. I like fostering and being part of a culture where people can be creative and build things, and execute effectively.”
Aligning Cross-Functional Teams
Before his recent transition to Managing Director of BMW iVentures, Uwe worked as Head of the BMW Group Technology Office USA, managing cross-functional teams of engineers and designers specializing in different areas, including Electromobility, Autonomous Driving and User Experience/Interface Design. With such a massive variety of teams, products and overall innovation, Uwe turned to BetterWorks to keep his people aligned and focused on the right things.
Before implementing BetterWorks, Uwe’s team didn’t use the OKR methodology, so setting goals quarterly and thinking about how to measure them wasn’t a process ingrained into their culture. Additionally, they didn’t use anything to document top priorities, measure progress or maintain dialogue surrounding goals, making it difficult for team members to communicate and innovate rapidly.
With BetterWorks, Uwe’s team adopted the OKR process to set goals and align priorities within the team. Now, leaders and employees are engaging quarterly to think about what’s important, set top priorities and get everyone on board, focused and aligned.
“We rely heavily on the intrinsic motivation and creativity of each and every person to come up with new ideas and collaborate on how to execute on those ideas,” according to Uwe.
“Instead of having every priority align top down, we also have bottoms-up driven initiatives — this kind of collaboration is key to innovation. BetterWorks gives us a great way to stay aligned in this way, and communicate without being in the same room all the time.”
When he first came to BMW, Uwe Higgen was inspired by the company’s ability to build, innovate and execute. While it’s been 16 years of growth and change since then, his inspiration — and BMW’s dedication to innovation and execution — has remained the same.
And with all the exciting things the company is working on now, we think 16-year old Uwe would be proud.