Christoph Stark: Two decades in China

Updated: 2010-12-23 13:34

By Han Tianyang (China Daily)

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Christoph Stark: Two decades in China

The 7 Series is the flagship model of BMW's lineup in China. [Photo / Provided to China Daily] 

Sinophile BMW chief plants 'young tree' that has taken root and is growing well

BEIJING - Christoph Stark has the same polished appearance as many Western CEOs. But it is when he talks in fluent Chinese - not only everyday speech but also business and even philosophical musings - the 56-year-old German really begins to impress.

In fact, language is just a part of his knowledge about the country. He studied in China in the 1980s, then worked in the country for almost two decades.

In 2004, Stark was appointed president and CEO of BMW Group Region China that includes the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. From then on, he has led the Bavarian brand to fast growth - a tenfold surge in annual sales over the past six years.

"If you are in the market, you speak the local language," Stark said.

More localization

He said the BMW's process of localization is organic - first local production facilities, then local suppliers, products, the dealer network and gradually more and more local employees on the management team.

Localization means to understand and adapt to a certain market and cultural environment, Stark said.

"If you want to be really successful, then you must have strong roots in that country."

The first big move Stark made in the Chinese market was to lower prices for the locally produced 3 Series and 5 Series to expand the customer base.

"I still remember very well in January 2005 when we made the announcement," Stark recalled.

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At the beginning, many thought the move might harm the BMW brand, but the result was increased sales and a boost to the morale of dealers.

"It was a strategic decision at that time after we found sales of our joint venture products were going this way," Stark said, gesturing downwards.

"This move increased our competitiveness," he said. "We did this only for the 3 and 5 series. And we haven't done it again for six years."

"But that alone would not help. It's just part of a greater story, a bigger strategy," he said.

In 2006, BMW's first long-wheelbase 5 Series hit the market, a model specially designed for Chinese customers who prefer roomy sedans, and it proved to be another correct decision.

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