If someone had told me that China would become one of the most powerful automotive forces just a decade ago, I would have laughed it off. Seeing where they are now and how far they’ve gotten, one has to wonder if anyone can stop them. It’s not just Chinese aftermarket suppliers. The Chinese have become so good at making OEM cars that they’re no longer copying the Western car brands just to stay in contention. They’re taking the lead with their own unique original ideas and concepts. Well, unique to a certain extent at least.
Western car makers are losing key executives
China had the largest and steepest economic growth out of any country in the world in the last decades. It went from the bottom to the top of the list in a matter of years, not centuries. Smart as they are, the Chinese people couldn’t have done all of this on their own in fifty years, let alone half that. What they did though, and are in fact still doing, is take the best, most talented minds from the established Western car manufacturers and offer them something their own companies never could.
China isn’t looking for workers in general, it has a strong workforce for that. It’s seeking great senior specialists and executive talent. Talent which can exploit China’s massive potential and make the most of it. It’s looking for car designers, engineering executives, marketing executives, etc. People who know their job better than anyone and can improve the Chinese company they’re brought into.
Anders Warming, Mini’s chief designer, has left the Bavarian car manufacturer where he has worked for the past 16 years to join Chinese-backed carmaker Borgward in the position of a Board Member for Design. His current creations are in direct competition with the cars he used to design in Germany. The story is similar with Gert Hildebrand, Warming’s predecessor in Mini who left to join Qoros Automotive, a joint venture between Chery and Israel Corp.
These are just a couple of examples of German designers who left their native country to work for China’s ever-growing automotive firms. It’s not just designers either. BMW suffered a major loss when a couple of its key engineering members left to seek better opportunities in China. All of them were involved in the making of the i8 and the i3, and that includes the BMW i8’s head of development.
What makes Chinese car companies attractive?
Well, for starters there’s the challenge itself. Being offered more money is one thing, but when you reach a certain point, it really doesn’t matter anymore. The possibility of working for a rising car manufacturer that is still finding itself is thrilling and exhilarating. Established car manufacturers such as Audi and BMW already have a corporate face and know what they want. The designer isn’t free to fully express himself because he has to follow certain guidelines and adhere to stricter rules. He can contribute and show off his work only as much as the company lets him.
It’s different with a Chinese car manufacturer. The designer is directly involved in the process and is shaping the company in real time. He is setting it on a certain path for the future, and for a rising executive talent knowing that you’re leaving some mark is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of all. It’s not about money, but about the fact that you will be remembered as one of the first people who started it all.
Then of course there is also the working environment they are being offered. With China’s economic growth Chinese automotive firms are quickly overtaking the established marquees in terms of incentives and opportunities. Someone talented has more chances of getting his breakthrough or getting a promotion at a Chinese car manufacturer as opposed to a Western one.
Lastly there’s the sense of adventure involved. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want to travel the world and explore. Some are more determined than others, but there isn’t a single young person alive who wouldn’t travel if they had a chance. Working for a Chinese manufacturer gives you exactly that. You won’t just be sampling the work environment of a company in another country, but the entire culture there, as well as the people and their traditions. To say it’s exhilarating would be an understatement.
If the established manufacturers are to stop executive talent poaching, they need to do more than just offer a rise. They need to let the creative minds express themselves and their abilities. Because believe me, there is nothing worse than monotony for someone new, ambitious, and talented. They’ll take every chance they can get to escape the dull and boring environment, and a Chinese manufacturer is exactly that.