Star Interview

Ilka Horstmeier,

The automotive giant is aiming for a greener future and its CHRO explains how they’ll take employees on that journey - using better communication, training, and purposeful work...

Words by Dan Cave

Last month, COP26 – the 2021 United Nations climate change conference which aimed to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – made headlines all over the world. Whether it was Greta Thunberg-led rallies in Glasgow, Barack Obama’s attention-grabbing cameo or David Attenborough’s address, all eyes were focused on pronouncements and agreements (or non-agreements) made.

The reasons for this are perhaps obvious. Already, millions have been displaced by climate change. The last decade was the hottest in recorded history, and it’s only predicted to get worse if emissions and warming aren’t controlled. Businesses are cottoning onto a need for action because of this, too. In 2020, according to a report from McKinsey & Company, 63% of companies were actively reducing energy consumption whilst Xerox figures show that in the US, over half of companies now have formal green programmes in place.

One of these firms launching a move towards general sustainability – greenifying and socially-minded, as they state – is BMW, the German automobile manufacturer. Recognising the opportunity that green jobs and green skills bring – as well as increased demand from the talent marketplace to work for greener companies – it is both greenifying some parts of its practice and people processes. To find out more, myGrapevine magazine spoke to Ilka Horstmeier, CHRO, BMW about what this move to green means for the HR agenda.

CV of
Ilka Horstmeier




Chief HR Officer, BMW

2019 – Present

Managing Director, BMW Plant

2018 – 2019

Senior Vice President Production and Planning Engines and EPowertrain, BMW

2013 – 2018

Head of Engine Production Munich, BMW

2010 –2011

Various management and strategic positions, BMW

1995 - 2009



Why is staff development such an important part of the HR agenda?


It’s obvious that the whole automotive industry is having to transform towards digitisation and electrification. To run this transformation, we have to train our people in a very intensive way and we have to take our people within that transformation. I’ll give you two examples [which demonstrate how important this is].

One is, of course, the total of the training budget we spend every year, it's about the €300million in training to cope with the future skills of our employees. And the second thing is just a practical example. As you might have read, in this transformation, we are closing down our engine plant in plant Munich in Germany. And so, we have to take the people from the Munich engine plant to other jobs. Training and taking people with us on that journey is a very important step.


“If people understand the why, then they will follow you on that path”


It’s not just about training though is it, we hear lots about purposeful work – why is this now an important part of the HR agenda?


We are working to make BMW a sustainable company. If you're talking about purpose, many of our employees, and prospects, are looking for purposeful or meaningful tasks. At the same time, people work for BMW, because they know that they can make a change at BMW. We have people who are working on recyclable floormats, we have people who work on alternative seat covers for our cars, young people, young engineers, young designers really want to make an impact within BMW to change the face of individual mobility. So purpose, from my perspective, is really important.

Quickfire questions


How do you approach HR?

I'm developing HR because I'm coming from a business background. I've been in business for the most time of my life so I’m intending to bring [HR] into a position where we’re actively contributing to the business development.

What is your vision for HR and employees?

[I want] to deliver an extraordinary employee journey to our employees. That is my vision for HR in the future. And that's what I'm working for quite hard every day that we get to this point.

How does this work at BMW?

I think what is special at BMW is that I'm not only responsible for the people at BMW, I'm also responsible for the places at BMW so [I get] to create a work environment that unleashes the potential of the people. That is my vision of HR at BMW in the future. And that's what we're working for.



Is communication a big part of this – when transforming your business or tweaking your purpose?


First of all, you have to explain the way of what you're doing in a company and that is all about communication. And if people understand the why, then they will follow you on that path. And then they want to contribute. That's our experience. And communication, as you said, is crucial to the transformation.

For example, during the Covid-19 crisis, communication was crucial, because on the one hand, we had to inform people about what was happening in the crisis situation, we had to inform about health and safety measures, we had to inform about the financials of the company of what we are really doing to tackle the current crisis. That was one thing. The second thing was that, at the same time we were communicating, what is our strategic direction for the company? And why are we going that path to sustainable mobility? We had a twofold approach to communication within Covid-19.

And in between, we had very emotional communication. For example, during lockdown, we knew that people were sitting in home offices, doing homeschooling and being disconnected from the company. So, I couldn't agree more that communication in a crisis situation, and in a very transformational time, is crucial for our company.

"Our task in HR is, especially on the social side, to ensure that our people really also take part in this corporate citizenship"



What does a move towards green or sustainable initiatives mean for HR?


First of all, you have to have buy-in from all of your people into that huge task. What we are doing, is involving people in that task to empower them with training, and to make them aware of what has to be done. And of course, if we have transformations, then we have to take people with us.

And that starts at the very early stage, making the right decisions at the right time, preparing the transformation process, and then really supporting that process. Our task in HR is, especially on the social side, to ensure that our people really also take part in this corporate citizenship; I think that's one part that HR can do to really make people more engaged.

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