FOR BMW, setting up an auto plant in North America was a big step. Building its South Carolina factory in the early 1990s gave BMW confidence to take other bold leaps, such as acquiring the Rover Group in 1994, and now, apparently, Rollls-Royce.
'The decision to move outside Germany to South Carolina, and the positive experience there, those were the first steps toward a new way of thinking in the company,' says Helmut Panke, a member of the BMW management board in Munich.
Panke, who is now in charge of personnel policies and labor relations, was the leader of the team that chose the American site in 1992.
'We learned from this site-finding experience,' he says. 'It's not just a technical decision. It's based on trying to understand the people, the political situation and the political business realities.'
BMW adopted a new, team-oriented approach in South Carolina that can be used in other BMW locations, Panke says. Some of the biggest lessons came from the plant's new way of managing people.
The operation in South Carolina, which is non-union, was built under Panke's leadership.
'Our way of thinking has been widened and opened. This has quickened BMW's actions,' he says, 'for instance, the decision to acquire Rover at the beginning of 1994.'
For the South Carolina plant, BMW hired employees from all work backgrounds. Most of the new employees had no manufacturing experience.
'From these, we formed a coherent, team-oriented organization where the values were BMW values, such as the high-performance product, and the high quality standard,' Panke says.
'This has affected how we approach the integration of Rover, without destroying its British culture,' he says. 'Now, we are looking forward to Rolls-Royce culture, and its products becoming another part of the BMW family of products.'