x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Motorrad boss a true biker

For a guy who never wanted to be in the family business, Hendrik von Kuenheim, now general director of BMW Motorrad, has certainly climbed BMW's corporate ladder at lightning speed.

Hendrik von Kuenheim of BMW outside Ouarzazate.
Hendrik von Kuenheim of BMW outside Ouarzazate.

For a guy who never wanted to be in the family business, Hendrik von Kuenheim, now general director of BMW Motorrad, has certainly climbed BMW's corporate ladder at lightning speed. The family business, for those not familiar with the von Kuenhiem name, is saving BMW. Before his father, Eberhard von Kuenheim, became CEO in 1970, BMW was an odd little manufacturer best known for eccentric motorcycles and quirky bubble cars. By the time he retired in 1999, his transformation of BMW into the Ultimate Driving Machine was legend.

Von Kuenheim, the son, decided he wanted nothing to do with family tradition and ran all the way off to the United States where he studied, of all things, hotel management at Cornell University. He then proceeded to even farther-flung South Africa to work as a front office manager. But the lure of the car industry remained strong, helped in no small measure by von Kuenheim's discovery that, while hotel management jobs "came with gold-lettered business cards they were accompanied by bargain-basement paycheques". So the younger von Kuenheim decided to join the family business.

Even here, however, he took the longer road, landing a job as a customer sales representative in San Francisco. Working his way up the ladder, he eventually headed BMW's push into the Middle East, trebling sales between 1994 and 1998, and then accomplishing the same feat in Canada between 1998 and 2004. Eventually, it has all led to his directorship of the Motorrad division, a prestigious position within BMW despite the company's cars outselling its bikes by more than ten to one. It also turns out that von Kuenheim earned his biking bona fide honestly, cutting his teeth on a "borrowed" Moto Guzzi California when he was 16.

More recently, he took advantage of his remote residence outside Madrid to become an avid dirt biker. Like any true biker, when asked which of his accomplishments he is most proud of since taking over the motorcycle division in January 2008, von Kuenheim does not stress the Motorrad division's relative success during this latest recession (sales are down only eight per cent compared with an industry average of 40 to 50 per cent) or the introduction of the incredibly well-received S1000RR, but that he finally managed to get his knee down in a turn at the tender age of 50.

"I finally impressed the engineers," said the beaming general director. "Not bad for an old man." motoring@thenational.ae