Written by Stanley Jackson
Bodo Donauer’s first few months as General Manager of BMW South Africa (BMWSA) was the job induction from hell. Just weeks after taking over in early 2007, the Bavarian Wirtschafts engineer was plagued by a world financial crisis. As Donauer himself admitted in 2010: “everything went down, but you learn your business in bad times.”
Donauer’s reversal of BMW South Africa has been nothing short of remarkable. Five years after the disastrous setback, BWM can now boast a 30 percent improvement in car sales, an annual 10 percent investment in various training schemes and development initiatives across several sectors of the business, and a thriving ambition which makes BMWSA one of South Africa’s most exciting companies.
Donauer describes himself as a calm leader, and it is clear watching him speak that he is a methodical yet powerful character, groomed in BWM’s ranks since 1984 but now with a burning passion for South Africa’s industrial future.
“We are proud to announce an investment of a further R2.2b in vehicle production technology”, Donauer told the AGM in Johannesburg in 2009: investment in people and production is where the company’s, and Donauer’s, successes stem from.
“You need to start the investment two or three years before you expect to come up with the new product.” Donauer told ABN Digital in 2010, and it is precisely that determination and forward thinking that has driven BMWSA to the starring role in the African automotive industry during Donauer’s time in the hot seat. “BMW is not the type of company which gets nervous easily”, he continued, speaking of the potential risks which confronted the business.
South Africa is by no means in the centre of world automotive industry, so BMWSA is confronted with a huge logistical challenge to export their product appropriately. Instead of scaling back operations to keep demand at a reasonable level, Donauer expanded; the maximum plant capacity at the Rosslyn plant has increased from 60,000 units per year to 87,000 under his tenure.
So what lies beneath Donauer’s success? “It’s innovation, it’s customer care, it’s knowing your routes, and above all it is because our people love this product – we talk about joy and automotive pleasure – we are the customers and we want to create a better experience all the time.”
Donauer’s dedication to the technical improvement of his staff and the education of his employees has been a continuing theme of his time in Africa. The AMIC programme has over 1,470 active participants who are gaining new skills in automotive production technology to boost BMWSA into a bright future, as well as a dedication to providing assistance in higher education for specialist staff.
Donauer is still relatively new in South Africa. He has been here for six years but is already consummately passionate about the countries’ future. “It is a wonderful, challenging country. South Africa is not in the middle of the industrial world, so in order to expand and encourage investments from overseas it must keep improving its reputation in the world.”