People | The Big Questions

CEO Peter Kronschnabl highlights innovation and team diversity for success

Leading BMW Japan into new, sustaining directions

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

Name: Peter Kronschnabl
Title: President and CEO, BMW Group Japan
URL: https://www.bmw.co.jp/ja/
BoD: June 12, 1966
Hometown: Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany
Years in Japan: 4


Standing in the BMW Group’s Tokyo Bay flagship showroom, Peter Kronschnabl is in his element. He glances around with palpable pride at the beautiful vehicles, which combine top-of-the-line luxury design with state-of-the-art technology. Growing up with a passion for cars and later majoring in business, Kronschnabl joined the firm’s Munich office in 1995, and his career with BMW has since taken him around the world.

His connection to the firm dates back to his students days at Pforzheim University in Germany. “I set up a student consulting company and did various projects with automotive firms, and in 1994 I wrote a thesis on BMW entering the Indian market. My ideal was to enter BMW after graduation and I realized my dream,” he said with a smile.

Kronschnabl went on to head BMW Group operations in India, Russia and Belgium before arriving in Tokyo four years ago. “In early 2014, I had a discussion with management about the next possible step — what would be most useful for both the company and my career,” he recalled. “So coming here was a business-driven decision, but it has turned out very well.”

BMW began business here in 1981 and Japan is now among the company’s six most important markets. In addition to BMW cars, the lineup includes motorcycles and the iconic Mini brand.

Kronschnabl’s time in Japan has corresponded with a period of diversification in the automotive industry. In order to take the company to the next level, BMW Japan rolled out its Change to Success program in 2015.

“The industry is in flux. There are new entrants in the automotive market challenging the established car manufacturers, and platform providers are also entering the business. Added to that are new initiatives such as electric cars and automated driving systems. The company needs to manage these challenges, and be one step ahead,” he said.

The Tokyo Bay showroom is one example of how BMW Japan is moving in new directions. “We want to create many points of experience for the customer, where they see more than the car,” Kronschnabl explained. Designed by the innovative team at Klein Dynham architecture, the 27,000-square-meter facility opened in 2016 and combines showrooms for BMW and Mini, along with a cafe and areas for brand and virtual reality experiences.

In addition to product innovation, company success and growth depends on having a talented, diverse team. In 2015 the firm introduced the Change Agent (CA) program, which is open to all employees, regardless of age or level of experience. Their common bond is that they are passionate about bringing new ideas to the table and implementing change from the bottom up.

“The change agents come from all functional areas within the company and around half are women. They have access to me and we meet regularly, and they get a budget to implement their projects if they pitch good ideas. For example, last year we set up a creativity room — like a library, with sofas and books. Now they are working on digitalization of our meeting rooms,” Kronschnabl said. “They are generally in their late 20s to 30s, but it was important to me that we place no limits on who can apply. It is a fluid group, as people choose to leave or join the current CA group.”

The BMW brand name is synonymous with luxury, and the company seeks to offer customers premium experiences that draw on their affinity for cars. This past Christmas was an especially merry one for 30 loyal customers, who were the first in Japan to drive the newest 2019 8 Series Coupe. The car was unveiled at a prelaunch event last year, with guaranteed delivery on Dec. 25 for the first 30 people to purchase one. The cars arrived in a special consignment on a jumbo jet, just in time to make all their new owners’ Christmas wishes come true.

When he isn’t at the office or traveling for business, Kronschnabl enjoys keeping active and making the most of life in Tokyo. “You can do so many things here, but Tokyo never feels too big. I love cycling and on weekends, I often go out on my bike. I’m also an avid runner, usually around the Imperial Palace.”

In fact, Kronschnabl has run the Tokyo Marathon twice, and says the experience was a great example of Japanese hospitality. “There are millions of people standing along the route, cheering you on. They hand you food, they hand you ice spray in case you have a leg cramp — this is how you can see the real heart of Japan.”

Looking ahead, he hopes Japan can move forward in terms of becoming a more diverse society. “In Europe, you have close neighbors from other countries and learn to adapt from them. I think Japan can open to foreigners, in order to become more accepting of them as full members of society.”

Kronschnabl is inspired by a quote that is sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In line with this, he says his greatest task is to establish a firm platform upon which to build for future growth. “It is very important to me that the company has been set up to sustain and meet the coming challenges. If I can achieve that before I leave, I will consider it a success,” he said.


A steady path from Germany to the world

Peter Kronschnabl was born and raised in the Black Forest region of Germany. In 1995 he graduated with a degree in international business management from Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences, and entered BMW’s international managerial training program in Munich the same year. For the next decade, he was based in Germany, building his career in management roles for different markets, including Africa, the Caribbean, Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe. Since 2006, he has represented BMW around the globe, including four years as president of BMW India Private Ltd. and two years at BMW Group Russia. He took on the role of president and CEO of BMW Group Belgium Luxembourg in 2012, and subsequently moved to Tokyo to assume his current position in 2014. When time permits, the keen sportsman enjoys cycling, running, golf and snowboarding.

The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.