The Ed Eppley Experience
The Ed Eppley Experience

Episode · 1 month ago

Kirk Cordill, The James Bond of Leaders

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In this episode of the Ed Eppley Experience we visit with Kirk Cordill, Dealer Principal for BMW and Jaguar/Land Rover and former CEO for BMW Financial Services in China. Kirk shares his international perspective about managing and leading people. You'll enjoy hearing about the differences in doing those things in countries like China and Germany. And what he's learned when his money is on the line. Kirk's tip for running a more sustainable company is also unique... he actually thinks that it should be different depending on the size and scope of the business.

...you know, it's my life savings and Itend to look at people in a very binary manner. As far as am I willing to betmy life savings on you. Yes or no, because that's exactly what I'm doing.Welcome to the Ed Epley experience 20 minutes that simplifies the complex jobof managing and leading people and inspires you to take action on what youprobably already know to build and sustain a smart and healthy business.Here's your host, Ed Epley to introduce this week's guest and business leader. Hey, welcome everyone. It's at Eppleyonce again with another opportunity for you to listen and learn from experts inthe field of management and leadership to help you build a more sustainablebusiness. Today we have a gentleman that I've known for uh well over 10years and I put down three adjectives to describe him. He's flexible, he'spatient, he's extremely creative. And then it occurred to me if there wasever going to be a James Bond of leaders, this is him. This is the Jamesbond of leaders. And his name is Kirk cordell. Kirk is in Scherervilleindiana. That's very extreme northwest corner, just outside of Chicago. AndKirk, welcome to the Epley experience. It's such a privilege to have you onwith us and it's an honor to be here and great to see you again. Gosh, Isound good on paper. Maybe I should have used my publicist. I mean thatreally sounds nice. So thank you for that introduction, I hope I can live upto some level of that, you will live up to it. And then some folks listening,if you ever want an example of what cool under pressure looks like, That'swhat Kirk brings to the table. And he's been under extreme pressure at a numberof different times since I've known him. But before we get into some of yourexperiences as a manager and leader and your linkedin profile, there'sHillsdale College and that's quite a special place. So why Hillsdale and howbig an impact did that the university experience have on you? Well, I wouldsay if you look at both schools between Hillsdale and Notre dame, my pickschools that actually I think take a stand on issues and stand for something.And that was really attractive to me. I grew up in a rather I would call it aconservative household. My father was an ex West Point graduate and you know,class of 53 Buzz Aldrin was a squad leader, just a great group of reallyhumble and really proven men. He'll still attracted me from the standpointthat they don't take any government aid and they really don't have anybody tellthem what to do. It's very much about freedom, liberty, independence, thedignity of the individual and to really, you know, I think celebrate what thiscountry has become and I think promote a liberal arts education, whichcertainly helped me. I mean I was exposed to philosophy and my freshmancore and you know, that sparked an interest and I wound up going overseasstudying philosophy at Oxford through Hillsdale and it's something that Iprobably would not or may not have been exposed to otherwise. And thatcertainly helped me in my professional career as far as I would say, casingproblems developing out of the box solutions, just framing thingsdifferently and being able to come up with solutions that may not have beentraditional solutions. Well, you're one of two executives that I know andhighly respected are graduates of Hillsdale and I think both of youexemplify that kind of ability to reframe and rethink or bring differentapproaches to situations. So whatever it's done for you, it seems like it'sworked. I'll tell you that, how did you get into the automotive world? Itwasn't just your love of cars, is that what got you into it? It's my passionand isn't it an awesome to be able to...

...combine a passion with a profession. So,you know, I was grew up in South Bend indiana area, Mishawaka Indiana and itwas really a third grade field trip to the local history Museum Century Centerand they had an exhibit on industrial design with a gentleman named RaymondLoewy and Raymond Loewy used to be the designer for studebaker Corporation inthe fifties and sixties and he did a car for them called the avanti, it wassimilar to their Mustang or Corvette and I absolutely was drawn to that carand Lo and behold, they were still in business making a couple 100 cars ayear and the controller for avanti Motor Corporation lived down the streetfrom my parents. So I used to just spend hours in the factory watchingthese cars be hand built and that was what really sparked the interest Andthen at the age of 16, went to work in a local car dealership. You know, Iwashed cars, I drove the parts truck and you know, this was before cellphones and gps, it was tough work. It also sold some cars. And then when Iwas at Hillsdale, one of my, you know, on the student work programme, I washedcars. So I washed the colleges fleet of cars and there were all these cars fromAl Sarah Chevrolet and Graham blank michigan. And so I got to meet Alan joeSarah when they came to campus and went to work for them after graduating fromHillsdale. I didn't understand that, that's the connection to Sarah. Okay,that, that a tumbler just fell into place. Well then, um, is that when yougot your first exposure to multiple, multiple luxury brands was working atSarah? Yeah, he was really General Motors Focus. So he was one of thelargest Chevy dealers in the nation. And uh, I had a number of generalMotors franchises at that time. So how did you get to BMW, that's a greatstory. So I go back to Notre dame to my M. B. A. And I'm sitting around, youknow, GM and ford recruited on campus. I was also looking at Wall street and Ithink this is really where mentors come into play and a couple of good mentorsof mindset. You love cars, why don't you stick with something that you love?It will probably make a world of difference for you. So I sat back and Ithought, you know, if I go to work at GM or ford and I get stuck on thecavalier or the escort program, I'm really not going to be too enthusedabout it. So I took a look, took a step back. I thought BMW had a great brand,I think exciting products and at that point in time, BMW had made a bigcommitment to the U. S. Market, correct? They had started up spartanburg southCarolina, they had the BMW of north America out New Jersey. And they hadalso started design works out in L. A. As far as the design firm. So theUnited States is one of the most vertically integrated markets that BMWhas. And then at that time they were also starting up a financial servicesdivision. And so I sent a cold cover letter off to BMW one day and get acall from a guy with a german accent named Stefan Krause to and so I didn'tknow at first I told a few people had sent this cover letter off and I didn'tknow at first if it was, you know, my buddy playing a joke on me or if thiswas actually something real. Uh so it was that it was at a real german accentor was that somebody's interpretation of one? Okay, keep going. And so flewout to New Jersey for an interview and got hired from there. So it was, youknow, me taking a look at what my passion was and going, who do I thinkhas a very strong brand, is making a large commitment to the market and isgrowing as well so that that another tumbler fell into place, okay, you know,it's funny as many conversations as you...

...and I have had and and some of themfairly personal, some of these things that I'm hearing for the first time, soit's, it's fun for me to see the rest of the picture um you uh did you alwayshave your head in the, in the space of wanting to do, you know, internationalwork or did BMW really hold that up and that was the first time you thoughtabout it, I would say I was the accidental international businessperson um you know, I was like to joke being, you know, I like to say that I'mAmish kid from Mishawaka indiana. Um but you know, when I was at Hillsdalehad a chance to go study overseas at Oxford University and I think thatstarted to open up a little bit of wanderlust when I was younger my familyrelocated to southwest Georgia and then moved around a little bit and I thinkthat kind of opened me up as far as being able to integrate in thedifferent areas and cultures um but it was really johan felt and I think youremember johann, so I met him when he came to the U. S. A few times and youknow the first time I met him you know he's a very intimidating figure, he'sprobably 6364 ball. The goatee was pretty buff physically and you know I Ithink I sweat through my shirt the first time I met him I was just sonervous, you know he was a global CFO for BMW Financial Services, this is abig deal and johan made me the offer, he said listen um I'd be willing tobring you over and work on my group in Munich for 3-6 months because I can'tpromise anything after that but I think it would be really good for you and either very naively or verycourageously I said yes, probably some of both. I think so and I got a one wayticket to Munich Germany but the one thing I realized is that people who hadmade it to the top of this industry almost universally had hadinternational work experience had gotten an international assignment andthey're not easy to come by, it's a pretty big commitment on the behalf ofthe organization that takes somebody and move them overseas and and you knowit's a bit of a gamble too. So I showed up in Munich without able without beingable to read street signs or anything else and got thrown into the mix, whichI would say at that time BMW was not only a german company but a veryBavarian company. So um you know I started german classes, I would do togrammar classes during the week before work And then an intense vocabularyclass on the weekend so I could build my vocabulary up to 600 words and startconversing. And then at a certain point Johan looked at me and everybody elsein the room during a meeting and said we're switching to German you eithersink or swim and that was kind of bad. So I love that, that's a uh digitalopportunity. So but it was you know what a wonderful experience and youknow I had the opportunity to become uh the english speech and presentationwriter for the number two person in BMW who was Gunter Lawrence, so he was thethe CFO of everything in johan's boss and I'd run into them and I overheard aconversation where Mr Lawrence had to go to England at that time. BMW ownedrover and they had to make a presentation to the rover executivesand he really wasn't comfortable with the materials he was receiving and hewasn't all that comfortable with his english and I get that in the secondlanguage, it can be really tough. So I spent a weekend developing a speech anda presentation that I then walked in on monday to johan's office and said, Ioverheard this conversation and you...

...know, put some things together and itcan be of any use to MR Lawrence, you know, please pass it along and fromthat. You know, I gained access to the 22nd floor of the BMW headquarters andyou know, used to fly around on the BMW playing with MR. Lawrence, getting inbrief for these speeches and presentations and so you're on theseplanes, you're with a board member, there are other board members there andyou really start to understand how the company works and functions and howthings actually get done. So, you know, people listening that are part of largeorganizations and you you hear the term politics um there's multiple kinds ofpolitics. There's politics of choosing your words before you speak, but thenthere's the politics of navigating the hallways and the floors of theorganizations of which you're a part. Um did that come intuitively to you orwere there people that really coached you on how to navigate the hallways andthe multiple floors and and and even locations of of a company like BMW, Ithink it's a little bit of both. Um you have to find your own way, but also,you know, be alert and listen to cues you're hearing and you know, johan wascertainly a good um mentor, great mentor throughout my career, as far asyou know, you do it this way or you do it that way and pulling me aside and,and actually taking an interest in me enough to say um you're screwing uphere, you need to do it this way and that's really what you need is somebodythat is higher up, more accomplished, that takes an interest in you and helpsguide you along the way where most of your mentors within the company or didyou have a few that you had really come to rely on by this point outside theorganization? Well, I would say with Navigating BMWis certainly within BMW, you know, if I were to start from the beginning, youknow, my father, one of my brothers, um joe Sarah was certainly a mentor um atthe Sarah organization and then johan was a big mentor within the, okay, okay,um let's talk more specifically about leading and managing, how different isit, leading people who aren't from your country, you're from, where you're from,you've, you've done that a lot in your career before you return to the States,what's, what's that like and how much different is it than leading people whoare all from the same country, wow! Um well, it's a little bit likethe wizard of Oz, you have to have a, you have to have a heart and being ableto connect with people is, is a big deal. Um, and that becomes toughbecause you know, I think is, you know, if you and I were talking on a new yearfrom columbus, Ohio, I'd probably bring up something about Ohio State footballand you see the game last, you know, last weekend was disappointing areexciting. Um We may have watched the same shows growing up. We may haveconsumed the same media as far as popular culture, songs, movies and in,in different parts of the world. You do not have that ability to make thoseconnections like that. So one is establishing trust with people and theyhave to know that they can trust you because if they're going to put theircareer on the line with you and believe in you, they have to trust you. So,establishing that trust I think is number one and that's universalwherever you go, especially in china, that was really a, you know, you had tobreak a lot of bread with people and, and spend a lot of time with themoutside of a business environment, so that they got to know you as a person.I could trust you more. It was the time outside of the office. Um, somethingthat was acceptable to them was that, did they feel um I'm just curious aboutwhether work life balance was uh a...

...concern for them where they wouldn'teven want to give you that time away from work or was that was that an honorto spend time with you in their culture? Um I think it was a little bitdifferent between Germany and china. So it was, you know, that's what myexperience is based on in Germany, it was a little bit more sports relatedgoing and playing tennis after work. It was, you know, I think, you know thegerman culture, you know, people can be a little bitmore like coconuts where they're got a hard exterior but soft inside andyou've got to be able to get past that and it's it's a much more formalenvironment than what you would have here in the States or something likethat. But getting to know them outside of that is a, is a big deal. Um, inchina, there were a lot more opportunities for dinners and lunchesoutside of the office. But people, I think we're just genuinely curious andwanted to get to know you, but also, you know, I wanted to know if theycould trust you or not. Okay. So so you you spent that time at BMW and thenwhat was it 2015 where you uh, then went on the other side of the table tobecome a dealer principal. And I say, yeah, I'd like to say I had a reversemidlife crisis. I uh punched out of corporate, I got married and moved tothe suburbs of Chicago. So it was probably opposite of the normal midlifecrisis, but it's a little bit like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz saysthere's no place like home and And I had a wonderful experience, I spent 11years overseas with BMW, I've gotten a visit 46 different countries, it wasjust an awesome experience. Um that last run was nine straight yearsoverseas and I just wanted to come home and and you know, fortunately andunfortunately had risen to A level in B. M. W. Where I was never going to getback to the midwest was either going to be East coast for stent and overseasagain somewhere or something else. But I think a couple of things converged, you know, I think um the opportunity to go out on my own asa business person, as an owner was something I had heard from a couplementors outside of BMW which was, you know, they would consider BMW the german g. E.You're going to get a great education there, you're going to be able todevelop good business acumen. Um But at a certain point, you know, go out anddo it on your own and it was interesting because From two differentpeople, I had heard an age of 45 and that's exactly how old I was when Istepped out. So I always kept that in the back of my mind. Um, and on theother side, it was about, you know, maintaining good relationships withpeople throughout your career and throughout your time. Um, the, you know,Sarah family had always stayed in touch with them and you know, out of the blue,one day I received a call from joe Sarah and he basically asked me if Iwas still seeing the girl in Chicago, which is a whole another story, butreunited with a classmate from Notre Dame and that I still have my cottagein in michigan. And what did I think about going in together on a BMWdealership outside of Chicago? So it just, you know, whether you believe inGod karma fate, like it really lined up quite nicely as far as getting back to,near the area where I grew up close to friends that had known from high schooland being able to put things together on a personal level um, with Wendy andmarrying her. Well, I'm thinking of...

...this, the scope of change that thatrepresented. And for our audience, let's put this in perspective, Kirkgoes from being the ceo of BMW financial services in china, thelargest fastest growing marketplace for BMW finance and I think the largestindividual contributor of profits to the, to the organization at that timeand, and, and, and as you said, flying corporate jets with the board membersand so forth. And now you're in a business where you have to worry aboutwhether the people show up to work to twist wrenches and to sell cars. Sothat's a big change. Uh, it's, it's, it's not quite the same kind of work,is it? It, uh, I would call it blue collar investment banking, the best wayI can describe because the hours are long. Um, and, and the work isdemanding, but it's certainly not as I would say, it's not as glamorous as,you know, uh, an international career, but I have to say, I really enjoy itfrom the perspective of working with teams being close to the product. And Ithink china gave me the confidence to step out on my own as a, you know, you,you got your life savings on the line and being able to put that on the lineand believe in yourself. Yeah. And I was also thinking you get to see muchmore quickly the consequences of whatever you do in the role you're intoday compared to where you were. I would think for better or worse. Yeah.You know, it can be a lot going into your bank account or it could benothing. What's been the biggest surprise if now that you've got sixplus years doing this as a dealer principal, what, what did you think itwas gonna be like versus what you've experienced to this point. That's a great question. Um, itcertainly is much more like a speedboat than an oil tanker, which is, you knowwhat BMW was and that's the fun part. You can turn the dials and see prettyquickly what works and what doesn't work. I think the biggest um, surpriseto me was how much Um, retail had changed in that 20 years that I've beenon the corporate side. You know, we didn't have tools like, you know, wedidn't have a Crm system, we didn't have the auto, we didn't have digitalretailing there. There was a tremendous amount of learning that had to takeplace for me as far as the principles were the same. But the tools in theprocesses had changed during that point in time. You were always a patientleader when it came to firing. I think even hiring, but I definitely felt likeyou were, you always give people the benefit of the doubt 123 times. In my,my, the way I remember you operating with your teams. Um, are you as patientin the role you're in today or have you moved do you move quicker now ondecisions regarding people? I, I do move faster I believe and Ithink it's a couple of things, number one. Um you know, it's my, my lifesavings and I tend to look at people in a very binary manner as far as am Iwilling to bet my life savings on you. Yes or no because that's exactly whatI'm doing and that I think becomes a very objective lens to look through. Uhand I think also as you mature and grow older, a little bit of that gutreaction, as far as pattern recognition, I've seen this before. Um and I thinkyou have a little bit more intuition then you may have had a different age.Um I get credited oftentimes for being smarter than I am because simply I'veseen it before, I I can I can say, you...

...know, well if this is happening, this,this other two or three things are probably happening as well, correct andpeople say, how do you know that? And there's just some recognition ofpatterns that become pretty evident and as you gain that experience um youadded uh jaguar, correct to your portfolio, jaguar land rover, we did soabout 2.5 years ago. So what was that like dealing with them compared to BMW?Are they better, worse or just different? Well, it's interestingbecause the global ceo for jaguar land rover over the past 10 years as an exBMW executive. So Ralf Speth was one of BMW's best product guys, worked forLieutenant for Wolfgang Reitzle er who was the head of product development andBMW. So I think that's why the product looks so sexy and is so sexy, hecertainly was able to improve quality over the time that he was there, it wasa compliment to us because jaguar Land rover approached us about opening thisfacility and representing the brands, you know, I think the brands are verydifferent than BMW while they're still luxury, there's different points rangerover is really about off road capability, but also ultra luxury atthe same time. So that's a little bit different jaguar. You know, the F typeis probably the sexiest modern sports car around. It's pretty cool. So thebrands, you know, I thought it was a nice fit because I didn't feel likethey were a direct competitor to BMW, they are smaller company with fewerresources. So I think, you know, that certainly is a challenge for them. Youknow, it brings back some memories of having been over there and gone throughthe rover facilities when I was younger and being the speechwriter, but it'sjust, you know, I wouldn't say it's just they are different brands. So,what are you driving? I think that's what people are listening are gonnawanna know. So what is in Kirk's garage? Well, right now and every day it can bedifferent, but a BMW X five M 50 and it's an individual color called Amateurin which is kind of a burgundy, really pretty vehicle. We're very fortunatethat BMW has a major manufacturing facility in south Carolina and it's anice tie into the local area too because there are two indiana steelmills that supply the factory. So there's a little indiana steel ineverything that we were driving around, nothing wrong with that. One of thethings we promised our listeners is if they join us and spend some timethey're going to come away with one or maybe two ideas about what they can doto run a more sustainable and successful company. So if you were tosay, what's one thing that you would recommend to anybody, regardless of thekind of business they're operating so that it would be more successful, moresustainable. What's that concept or idea for you, Kirk? Well, based on myexperience, if you're running a large organization, it's certainly about thestrategy, it's about the balanced scorecard and getting everybody in thatorganization of pull in the same direction and on a smaller basis, say,for instance, our dealerships, it's really about people product andprocesses and the people goes back to the old jim Collins, get the rightpeople on the bus and get the wrong people off, but also get people in theright seats. The product, we certainly represent some of the best luxuryproducts around, but the product is also the service that you're deliveringand that's very dependent on the processes that you have and it has tobe process oriented. I think The commonality out of those two Is that anorganization can only effectively concentrate or focus on 3-5 items at atime. That's the truth. If you can focus on those 3-5, you might actuallymake some progress, but you also get Your organization aligned behind those3-5 things. And people can start to...

...prioritize. We all have more thingsthat we can do in a day, Right? And it comes down to the prioritization. Andif it aligns with those 3-5 items that are a priority, then I need to makethem a priority. And if they don't, they're probably going to be a lowerpriority. And I think that helps an organization, whether large or small, Iappreciate you providing that clarity of 3 to 5 things And what they mean ifwe can get those accomplished or isolated, you're always a resource ofgood thinking, great ideas and frankly just a fun guy to spend time with. I'msorry, we haven't spent much in the last 12 to 18 months, but I knowthere's been a lot on your plate. So thank you once again for being such agood resource for our audience Kirk. If they wanted to reach out and no more orlearn more from you, what's the best way for them to do that? My emailaddress is simply Kirk cordell at gmail dot com. Just drop me a line. Iactually do read my emails and try to respond to them and kurt Cordele.That's all one word. Yes. Okay. And we'll put that in our show notes and Iwouldn't be surprised if you heard from some folks. Thanks so much for joiningus here on the left. The experience. Well, it's been an honor. Thank you forhaving me. You better. Thank you for listening to the Ed Epley experience.For more information on building a more sustainable, smarter and healthierbusiness, visit www. The Epley group dot com for resources tips and Ed'slatest blogs. That's the Eppley e p p l e Y group dot com. Plus take a freeassessment at the epic group dot com slash assessment to find out how youmeasure up as a highly skilled and accomplished manager and where to focuson improving your skills. Yeah.

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