Drive to succeed
Reinhold Carl, Audi’s Hong Kong boss, is a man with a mission
Reinhold Carl is genial, personable and immediately gives the impression of having a certain German thoroughness about him. He’s just the man, then, to be Audi’s managing director in Hong Kong, a post he has held for the past seven months.
Carl, a native of the German city of Frankfurt, has a robust and multi-faceted business outlook that served him well for many years in his previous post in Singapore. The same outlook is now powering Audi to increased sales and profitability – and a lofty high-end reputation – in Hong Kong.
“The Audi philosophy is to try to deliver a little bit of an advantage to the customer in everything we do,” Carl says. “We might not achieve that in every single instance, but we always strive to, nevertheless.
“The other key dimension of the company is its personal approach. Certainly we are highly competitive – and we have become used to succeeding – but we are also very open-minded and, for want of a better word, ‘human’.”
This human side is reflected in the manner in which Audi staff across the world are treated. “We want to be the most attractive employer in the car industry. Not just in terms of remuneration, but also regarding working conditions. Audi employees are treated with the utmost respect and the company is rewarded with loyalty and a commitment to excellence from everyone who works for us. After 26 years with Audi, I’m very close to this philosophy,” Carl says.
Carl has a well-earned reputation for a down-to-earth, hands-on approach to his work and managing his team. Despite his seniority, he says he takes a real pleasure in getting to know customers face-to-face.
“I don’t like to spend too much time hiding behind the desk,” he says. “One-on-one is always preferable to constantly sending e-mails.”
The switch from Singapore to Hong Kong has not been overly daunting for him. “It hasn’t really been a great shift. Audi customers are demanding – and enjoyable to deal with – all over the world,” he says.
Carl is striving to raise Audi’s profile in Hong Kong. “There’s terrific room for growth. But we are about 40 per cent up [in sales] from last year,” he says. “By some measures we are the fastest-growing premium brand in the city today.”
He’s certainly on his way to mirroring his performance in Singapore, where he trebled sales during his time there. This was achieved through a number of strategies, including a high-profile marketing drive to establish Audi as an eminent “lifestyle brand”.
“We developed the brand to become one of the most prestigious in Singapore, and Southeast Asia in general,” he says. “Audi is – and always has been – a lifestyle brand, so we set up the Audi Fashion Show in Singapore, which has gone on to become one of the top events of its kind in the region. We also founded the ‘Audi Classics’, which presented a series of theatre productions by the Singapore Repertory Theatre. This included a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III, with Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey in the title role.
“We even managed to put an Audi on top of the Fullerton Hotel, the highlight of another event that got people talking. The idea was to provide lots of lifestyle activities – with the concept of creating a ‘world of Audi’.”
Carl started out in the auto business as a student, making extra money by selling cars in his spare time. “My father wasn’t too happy about this. But I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I got on with it,” he says.
He formally started his career at Mercedes-Benz as a sales trainee, where his naturally persuasive style helped him excel in his role. In 1987 he joined the Volkswagen Group as a trainer at Audi.
At Audi’s headquarters in Ingolstadt, in the German state of Bavaria, Carl held several high positions. His résumé includes senior roles in sales, product marketing, customer service, global training and dealer-network development.
In 1993, he played a key role in the successful launch of the company’s then flagship product, the Audi A8. A year later, Carl was promoted to become Audi’s global head of training. In 2006 he moved to Singapore to head up operations there as managing director.
With one Asia-Pacific posting already under his belt, he is unfazed by the tough challenge Hong Kong presents. “Audi buyers have high standards the world over. We try to exceed them. That was my approach in Singapore, and is my approach here now,” he says.
“The brand is much more than an automobile. It’s a lifestyle – one that high-achievers aspire to, and for them, high-performance wheels go with the territory. Cars are very emotional products. In an important sense, we’re selling emotions.”
REINHOLD’S RECREATIONAL REPERTOIRE
BUMPER TIMES Carl does laps on the race track whenever he can. “I have an F3 licence and race cars,” he says. “The real test of a good racing car is not speed, but cornering performance.”
TYRING PURSUITS His more physically exerting pastimes include basketball, tennis, running marathons and mountain trekking. He also loves skiing, especially at Swiss hotspots Flims and Laax.
TAKING A BRAKE Carl makes it a point to attend the annual Salzburg Festival in Austria whenever possible. The music and drama festival, held every summer, was a font of inspiration for the cultural event he developed in Singapore, the “Audi Classics”, which featured a series of theatre productions.