“Sometimes you don’t know what the outcome of an experience will be, but you say: ‘Well, let’s try’.”

Peter Kronschnabl

Savouring the salt in the soup


Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Kageaki Smith


“Without change, we would never achieve anything,” says Peter Kronschnabl, CEO of BMW Group Japan. “Maintaining the present will always lead, at a certain point in time, to mediocrity.”

Change is the theme of Kronschnabl’s life and career, and the topic he most likes to speak on when he gives lectures. Having been president of different BMW Group offices around the world, he has relished the opportunities he has been given to share his experiences with students. Last year, he gave talks about the importance of change to Keio University MBA students.

“It’s important to give people confidence that doing it their way doesn’t mean it’s a bad way — that’s what leads to innovation,” he explains. “I like to encourage the younger generation that if they have great ideas, they should go for their ideas, because maybe that will change something.”

As someone who has lived in five countries, including his native Germany, and worked in many others, Kronschnabl is someone who understands and appreciates the value of new experiences.

“There is a saying in German, ‘the salt in the soup’,” states Kronschnabl, referring to something that adds excitement or zest to a situation. “Sometimes you don’t know what the outcome of an experience will be, but you say: ‘Well, let’s try’. Isn’t that the salt in the soup?”

While working in Munich, Kronschabl oversaw the African and Caribbean regions, and two weeks a month he travelled to French-speaking African countries, “starting from the Maghreb, then all the way down.” He later opened branches in Poland and Hungary. Since then, he has been president of BMW Group offices in India, Russia, Belgium-Luxembourg, and now Japan.

 

BMW was founded in 1916 and opened its doors here in 1981. Today, Japan is one of the six most important markets for the Group. In 2016, it sold approximately 80,000 products — including BMW cars, motorcycles, and MINIs.

“We laid out a strategy last year for Japan to 2022 called ‘Change to Success’,” Kronschnabl notes. “We believe that there is still growth potential in the Japanese market in all areas. We have to change, as well, because the automotive industry is continually developing.”

Since he was young, Kronschnabl has sought out new experiences, but has also challenged himself to improve at whatever he puts his hand to. Growing up in the Black Forest, he started skiing when he was three and, at school, was on the racing team. When he was eight, he joined the football club and quickly became passionate about the sport. Later, he took up skateboarding and windsurfing. In his early twenties, snowboarding became popular and he knew it was something he had to try.

“I wanted to do something different,” says Kronschnabl, “because I couldn’t make any more progress on skis.”

For much of his adult life, running has been part of his weekly training routine. But only since moving to Tokyo in 2014 did he decide to do a full marathon. After completing the Tokyo Marathon once, he was determined to improve his time and knew what he had to do differently to be faster.

“So, I changed things,” he states. “My goal was below four hours, and I did it a second time in 3 hours, 57 minutes.”

Sports have also helped Kronschnabl to change at a psychological level.

“Golf is a completely different sport to my other activities, because it centres your mind — you need to keep up your concentration over a couple of hours,” he observes. “And you learn what it means to control your emotions.”

Out on the golf course, Kronschnabl has discovered that the moment he becomes emotional is the moment he loses his precision — a moment he describes as the “beginning of the end”.

“Having a bad shot doesn’t mean you will have a bad game; you can recover,” he states. “But you have to change something.” 

Do you like natto?


 

Time spent working in Japan: Three years.

Career regret (if any): None.

Favourite saying: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity.

Favourite book: Ken Follett is a great writer. I think The Pillars of the Earth is remarkable.

Cannot live without: My smartphone.

Lesson learned in Japan: I learned the difference between honne (true feelings) and tatemae (the opinions you express in public).

Secret of success in business: You need to have a vision so you know where you want to go. And with that, you create a plan and a direction for the whole company.

Favourite place to dine: I’m a big fan of steak, and there are a lot of great steak places in Japan.

Do you like natto?: No. But I tried it. I didn’t like it the first time. I thought, give it a second try. And I didn’t like it then, either. So I thought, OK, maybe it’s really no.

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