January 2017 | Christabelle Noronha

'There will always be demand for premium mobility'

Hanno Kirner discovered his passion for motorcars while growing up in Berlin — “fortunately in the west” — when it was still divided by the Wall. Crafting a career around that passion has meant breaking through to the car-making side for the man who essays the role of executive director, corporate and strategy, at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

The 46-year-old Mr Kirner, who joined JLR in March 2016, has spent long years in the automotive industry, working previously with Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and the BMW Group. At JLR, he has a range of responsibilities, among them product strategy, global financial services, an enterprise-wide transformation programme, special operations and the majestically tagged royal and diplomatic affairs. In this interview, Mr Kirner expands on his role and more.

It’s still early days for you at JLR, but what has your initial experience been like?
There are a lot of responsibilities and I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Having said that, I’ve never enjoyed working for a company so much. I feel like I’ve been handed a marvellous opportunity. JLR has a great chief executive and team, a great owner and, most importantly, we make great cars. That’s a huge motivation for me.

From the corporate and strategy perspective, what are the short- and long-term objectives for JLR?
In the short-term, we have some new cars and technologies to launch. These include the all-new Land Rover Discovery that we revealed at the Paris Motor Show and the Ingenium four-cylinder petrol engine, which is one of the key steps for us towards ensuring a cleaner future. The long-term goal remains the same: deliver profitable and sustainable growth for JLR and, ultimately, for Tata.

What does the company have to watch out for in achieving these objectives?
No one at JLR underestimates the size of the challenge that we face. Our competitors are getting better and stronger every day. Customers are getting even more demanding, and rightly so. Global legislation is making the situation tougher and there are always things around the corner that we cannot predict — the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom is one example.

Digital technologies are having a huge impact on every kind of industry, particularly the automotive business. How is JLR’s strategy reflecting this reality?
We like to say that we’re moving from cogs to code. Take the new Land Rover Discovery, where 40 percent of our research and development expenditure was on digital or electronic features. Some 20 years ago that would have been around 4 percent. It’s a revolution.

What this means is that we need new skills, new training, new people and a whole new approach to product development. We also have a challenge with sales; we need to tell our current and future customers about how emerging technologies can improve their cars and their lives.

The Range Rover Evoque is one of several Jaguar Land Rover vehicles assembled in India

JLR has been having another good year in revenues and profits. Beyond the obvious, what has the company been doing right?
We have been investing in world-class products, in the right people and in making cars that customers love. We have also been taking care of business globally while aiming for sustainable growth. Our business is now spread evenly across key markets; this allows us to promote and protect our business worldwide.

As JLR gears up for further growth, will there be radical shifts in thinking and execution?
I wouldn’t describe any future actions as radical. We have a plan and a strategy, and we’ll stick to it. That doesn’t mean, though, that we’re not going to surprise and delight
our customers.

How does JLR’s game-changer strategy redefine competition for sustainable and profitable growth?
Companies always benefit from inventing and effectively marketing truly game-changing products. I would say we have a classic example here from JLR in the Range Rover Evoque. It broke a lot of rules for the automotive industry, and it’s been a huge sales success around the world and continues to be so, especially now that there’s an equally inventive convertible version in the market. The challenge is to keep coming up with such creations, and I know enough about our future plans to be confident that we are going to do just that.

How important is innovation to an enterprise such as JLR, and how does it compare on this count with its competitors in the industry?
Innovation is right at the heart of our business. We are now a lifestyle tech company that creates cars, and a car company that innovates. We believe it is this spirit that enables us to stand apart from our immediate competitors. We are smaller, leaner and hungrier than them.

We have a fabulous blend of world-class engineering, combined with British design, craftsmanship and creativity. There are many examples of the fruits of this throughout our business: the Jaguar F-Pace, the ‘special vehicles operations’ and our class-leading In Control Touch Pro infotainment system, to name a few.

‘Customer first’ seems to be the key tenet of your business blueprint for success. What steps is JLR taking to improve customer experience at every touchpoint?
Making cars that customers love is our number one priority. That means we also have to keep adapting to how our customers want to buy their cars, meaning that we need to keep investing in first-class digital experiences, keep listening to our customers, and keep benchmarking ourselves against the world’s best retailers, be they automotive or from other sectors.

It’s also crucial that we continue to help our current and future retailers, making sure that they invest in giving customers the best experience.

Which markets offer the best prospects for JLR? What will it take for the company to capitalise on the potential of these markets?
We have global opportunities. We are well leveraged across the world, and a fifth of our sales are now in each of our key markets: the UK, the US, China, mainland Europe and the rest of the world. Clearly, there are a lot of opportunities to expand in all of these markets, especially in China and the US. It means we have to listen to potential customers in those markets, and make ourselves more competitive and capable of grabbing the opportunities present there.

It’s also exciting to see lots of new markets opening up in Indonesia, Malaysia and India, for instance. We now assemble many of our models in India (the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport, and the Jaguar XJ and XE). India is an important market for us strategically, and not just because our parent company is headquartered there.

Could you tell us a bit about the Leap transformation programme and its goals?
Leap is a top-to-tail plan to drive efficiencies, revenue opportunities and improved working practices throughout the business. The goal is to make us better equipped to invest in the future and fight our competitors. Substantial functional improvements have been identified, and we are now focusing on cross-functional topics.

We must, first and foremost, ensure that our targets for the next couple of years are achieved. Meanwhile, we have also started work on longer-term, transformational initiatives. These have been running for over a year, and I’m pleased to say that we are ahead of our targets.

Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft may have different needs compared to individual buyers. How will JLR meet their demands?
We know that customers’ use of cars and ownership models are changing and will change further. We are responding to the challenge by investing in increased connectivity and with the launch of initiatives such as InMotion, a business within a business that is designed to promote start-ups by providing quick, innovative and ingenious transport solutions. These are early days but it’s extremely exciting, and allows us to be equipped for future challenges and the future demands of our customers.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your professional capacity. Is there something that fazes you?
There’s certainly no shortage of challenges, and the sheer number of them can be humbling. It is exciting to stay on top of decisions in such a rapidly growing business, and ahead of the curve in what is a quickly changing industry. But we are not fazed. We know we can rise to the challenge.

One of your responsibilities is ‘royal and diplomatic affairs’. What does this entail?
‘Royal and diplomatic affairs’ is a small department that deals with the British royal family and key government officials around the world to help them get the right access to our vehicles. We have a strong relationship with the British royal family; we are the only car company to hold all three ‘Royal Warrants’ (granted to recommended suppliers of goods and services by members of the British royal family).

Last year Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth took delivery of a new royal state review vehicle. This is based on a hybrid Range Rover that was designed and built by our special vehicle operations team.

As a veteran of the global automotive sector, how do you see the industry evolving? And where will JLR’s place in it be?
I’m not sure that one can be described as a veteran at the age of 46, but in my 15 years in the automotive business, I have been privileged enough to experience a few memorable highs and some lows. What is unarguable is that there are three main areas of evolution: electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving. We have to be flexible, prepared and ready to respond to customer demands in all three areas.

JLR has a great place in that future, and we will benefit. Whatever happens, there will always be demand for premium mobility with distinctive design and superlative technology. We will continue to deliver on these parameters.

Is Brexit good or bad news for JLR?
Brexit presents us with a host of challenges. We are currently working with the British government and the European Parliament to make sure that we get what we need: tariff-free trade with Europe, which is one of our most important markets, and access to world-class talent (currently, around 1,000 of our engineers are European Union nationals). These two factors, combined with keeping a level playing field for regulation, are crucial to our competitiveness.

What will transportation look like 20 years from now?
That is rather difficult to predict precisely at this point in time. What is clear is that the face of transportation will be determined by local factors such as regulation, population density and consumer preferences. Cities on different continents might have more in common than cities and rural areas in the same country. We also feel that the levels of autonomy and connectivity will be much more advanced than what they are now. It’s going to be an exciting journey, and we are convinced there will be a substantial market for premium motorcars.

Please tell us about your personal and professional background, your motivation in joining JLR, and your interests outside of work.
Well, I play golf badly and I play tennis slightly less badly. I own several classic British cars — a Range Rover and Jaguar among them — that I enjoy driving but rarely find the time for. My priority on weekends is my family.

My background helped shape my interest in the British car industry. I grew up in Wall-divided Berlin, fortunately in the western part and in what was the British sector. I got used to seeing a huge number of army Land Rovers. I was embarrassingly keen on motorcars, collecting brochures — I still have the one on the 1986-model Range Rover — and reading motoring magazines. I also remember the parents of a school friend of mine owning a Jaguar XJ Coupe. It was a rare and cool car then, and it’s a rare and cool car now.

Having worked and lived in the UK for more than ten years, I have been fortunate to contribute to great British car brands. Working for Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin taught me a lot about luxury brands. I owned Land Rovers and Jaguars before I came here and that’s because of the passion I had for them from a young age. I feel a deep-seated emotional attachment to JLR and that gets me out of bed every day.

This article was first published in the January - March 2017 issue of Tata Review. Read the ebook here