Man cleans BMW logo before news conference of German premium automaker BMW in Munich
Photograph by Michaela Rehle — Reuters

On the race track with BMW’s Ludwig Willisch

Mar 24, 2015

If you care about fast cars in general and BMWs specifically, then you’ve not been able to miss the fact that it’s the Bavarian company’s 40th anniversary in the U.S. Starting in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, BMW displayed the Sebring-winning 1975 CSL race car, which put the Bavarian brand on the map in the States. And the CEO and President Ludwig Willisch, in addition to running the most successful German brand in the US, races the car himself. BMW shared this video with us on the parallels between his time on the track and commanding a business.

It happens to be a catnip car for me: I’d just about kill to have a turn behind the wheel. Anywhere, anytime. Recently at the beloved Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, BMW taunted me again with the presence of the CSL—and a few of the iconic drivers who take credit for its winning streak. Brian Redman, Sam Posey and Hans Stuck were all on hand at a gala that also included Jochen Neerpasch, the head of BMW Motorsports at the time.

Willisch will race the CSL again in the upcoming Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion this August during the Pebble Beach Concours week (as will our own Jason Harper in the factory-owned BMW M1). Willisch spoke with me about the parallels of racing one of the most ultimate driving machines and running BMW’s North American business. Here are his words on the subject and on leadership:

“Regardless of whether it’s a vintage or current car, racing is a dynamic sport and running BMW of North America is just as dynamic. On the track, you always are facing new obstacles, the car evolves and the driver must be constantly learning and improving. Same for the CEO—constantly finding new ways to improve the business and staying focused on the goal, which is to win!

“Just as important is keeping the team together and focused. In a race, it is the driver who crosses the finish line and gets the trophy. But the driver isn’t the only one responsible for the win. The team is crucial in overcoming obstacles and making the win possible. It’s the team who keep the car on the road and who must respond when thing don’t go according to plan. A good leader, like the best driver, knows he is never alone and all success is shared.”

Video courtesy of BMW North America

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