Car articles that tell you torque, and mileage, and even the number of stitches in the hand sewn leather seats, are a dime a dozen, but what you cannot get everywhere, is the story of the people behind the brick and mortar of our favorite brands. After all, it is their human leadership that is developing and evolving our favorite brands that ignite our passions, as the Rolls Royce hood ornament aptly called” The Spirit Of Ecstasy” implies. Those are the stories that “The Luxury Guru” is famous for shedding light on; the story behind the story. This one is about the CEO of Rolls-Royce, a man credited with the turnaround of this pedigreed brand and its impressive growth. As the other sectors of the economy hiccup and falter, the elite end of the luxury sector is booming.

German born Torsten Müller-Ötvös has been Chief Executive Officer of the British luxury brand Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd. since March 2010. Mr. Müller-Ötvös has been with BMW Group for more than 20 years. Not surprising for a brand like Rolls-Royce that the CEO was an impeccably dressed, very buttoned up, and reserved individual. He worked his way to the top in the auto industry and is most know for his stellar success with the MINI. He held a number of management positions in the Sales and Marketing Division and was instrumental in brand and product management for MINI between 2000 and 2003. Mr. Müller-Ötvös successfully re-launched the MINI brand and internationally re-established MINI as the first premium small car brand. In 2004, he assumed responsibility for central marketing and brand management at BMW.

But as my fans know, I like to find “the story behind the story” and so my questions were really to learn about the man at the helm of one of the single most elite brands in the luxury sector. Rolls-Royce is a marque that sets the bar by which other brands must measure up. I started the interview with my trade mark question “How Do you define Luxury?” Torsten answered, “On a material side I would say rare, something that is a collector’s item, not often seen. However, I consider the time fly fishing, to be a luxury too.” Torsten gave his favorite past time as fly fishing. He loves being in nature, away from all technology and really disconnecting from the world for a few hours. In the last several years he has taken up Hobby Cat sailing. He told me that Greece has excellent conditions for this sport due to calm seas and wind conditions and that he tries to go every year.

Torsten is a man that has traveled extensively and says his favorite place to visit is the USA because of its great diversity, “The east coast vs. west coast, or the personalities of Miami vs. LA, or even the fact that many cities like NY you meets so many international people. There really is no one American type.” Given this reply, it was not surprising that he chose the Asian market, particularly China, as his second favorite destination for travel. What particularly impressed him in China is how many of his Rolls-Royce owners were in their 30s and had created their own wealth at such a young age. He also cited the amazing natural beauty of the country.

Torsten is married and has a 16 year old daughter; every year the two of them take a father – daughter trip somewhere together. When I met with him, they had just return from NYC. “I love NYC. We did it all from Abercrombie to the Empire State building. My favorite part of NYC is central park; that juxtaposition of calm right next to the massive urban activity.” said Torsten.

As a luxury marketing consultant I always ask the question “If you had one piece of marketing advice what would it be?” Torsten replied,” I would say 3 words: Authenticity, Heritage and Substance.” He said “you just cannot create a luxury brand over night. You cannot sell on bling factor; you cannot just be only image. You must have the quality and pedigree so that the customer is getting value for their dollar.”

I asked Torsten how marketing the super premium Rolls-Royce differs from the other brands that he has managed. He replied, “Marketing for Rolls-Royce is different because we have one-to-one relationships with most if not all of our customers. We are in regular contact with them and regularly solicit their feedback before producing new models more making significant changes to an existing model. For example, when engineering the new Phantom Series II, which will arrive in showrooms this fall, our owners made it clear to us that they were very happy with the current Phantom model and only minor changes should be made. As a result, Phantom Series II is more of an evolution than a dramatic change.”

When I asked him who his favorite person was, that he had met through his association with Rolls-Royce, Torsten replied that he meets so many diverse individuals that are all fascinating in different ways and in different industries, that it was impossible to choose just one. He said what most impresses him is how they are “thinking” people that can discus many topics. He is always impressed on how down to earth they are and how their wealth has not made them disconnected. This was certainly a comment that I could relate too with my years of working with the UHNW.

Torsten has the opportunity to leave his imprint on one of the most elite luxury brands in history. When I asked him what he would like his legacy to be, he responded, “Since the Rolls-Royce brand was reintroduced by the BMW Group in 2003, sales have risen from 300 to more than 3,500, which set a record for us last year. Even in these recent times of economic tumult, Rolls-Royce sales have grown globally, which to me indicates recognition in the quality of our brand. While Rolls-Royce has been a globally recognized and revered brand more than a century, it is my hope that I will have contributed to that growth and success.” One interesting fact is how Roll-Royce’s customer base is changing. Rolls-Royce went from almost no female owners to now about 10% in just a couple of years. US, China and surprisingly the Middle East, are where most of this growth is occurring. As more women gain their own personal wealth, Rolls Royce has been able to appeal to the female audience globally. This is a growing arena that they have just started to tap into.

In closing I wanted to get a glimpse of the less guarded side, so I asked what the most fun thing about his job was. “As CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars globally I am afforded many opportunities to travel and interact with customers around the world. Driving down the Cote D’Azure in the Phantom II with the top down, that is when I know why I do what I do” Torsten replied with a big smile.

Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

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Tim J. Schmidt

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