Former Aston Martin CEO Talks Brand Revitalization at UVA Darden
By Dave Hendrick
Former Aston Martin CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez held the top spot at the British luxury auto manufacturer for 14 years, overseeing a remarkable resurgence in what was viewed as a venerable but stodgy automotive brand.
Having stepped down from the executive post, Bez now travels the world as an ambassador, explaining the path to revitalization, effectively marketing a luxury brand and what the future may hold for the company and the automotive space, in general.
Speaking at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business as part of a Leadership Speaker Series event, Bez, who previously held top engineering and design positions at Porsche and BMW and has served as a distinguished executive-in-residence at Darden, claimed to have “the greatest job on earth,” one that brought together a diverse suite of disciplines like physics, design, manufacturing and economics into the production of a cult automobile — and memorably afforded him a villainous role in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.
Bez said he took over a company operating in a high-cost, low-profit model, and quickly realized that a significant part of his job would involve changing consumer perception.
Under Bez’s leadership, Aston Martin ramped up production and introduced new, popular models, while also modernizing a global network of dealerships and building a new manufacturing center.
The aesthetically-minded Bez, who called design a “continuous dialogue between management and engineering,” made sure the sleek and clean look of the cars carried over to dealerships and manufacturing facilities, and the deceptively simple approach has become synonymous with the brand.
“Simplicity is more difficult to achieve than complexity,” Bez said. “To make a straight line is very difficult.”
The former CEO managed the feat of growing the company and its cultural cache, and Aston Martin routinely shows up at or near the top of lists of the “coolest brands” in the world while selling significantly more cars than in prior years.
In attempting to grow its market share, Bez noted a series of attributes the company assigned to its potential luxury car buyers, including a “refusal to grow old,” a wish to be “rewarded and delighted” and the “desire for honesty and authenticity.”
Although the efforts took several years, the former executive said they started with a strategy and a clear vision for what the company wanted to be in the future.
“My main interest has always been sketching and shaping the future,” Bez said. “For me that means 30 years ahead. Sketching is talking, shaping is doing.”
In addition to traveling the world recounting the recent past and bright future of Aston Martin, Bez has become a proponent of the future of hydrogen to power the internal combustion engine. Although electricity may be more “politically correct,” Hydrogen should be drawing more interest and investment, Bez said.
Bez serves as vice chair of Alset Global, a company focused on harnessing hydrogen power.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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