Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Eduardo Villaverde could, by the age of two, according to his mother, name the make and model of any car in the large garage where the Villaverdes kept their family car, across the street from their home. His love for autos was there from an early age, and today he continues to indulge his passion, overseeing nearly 200 employees as the president and CEO of BMW Group Canada, which recently ranked 23rd—the highest of any automotive company—on Great Place to Work Canada’s 2013 list of large and multinational companies. Villaverde’s arrival above the 49th parallel came after many transitions, but now that he’s here, he’s leading his happy employees through the introduction of a new line of products that will keep BMW at the head of the automaking pack well into the 21st century.
Early on in his career, whenever he had the chance to work for something even tangentially related to cars, Villaverde did. His first job was with a petrochemical company, and his second was running an auto dealership. Then, in 1995, he joined BMW as the CFO of its Latin America region, but the position was only the first on a long path with the company—a path that would eventually take Villaverde to several countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Spain, and Portugal.
On a Friday in 2011, Villaverde’s boss called and offered him the job in Canada, and his mind immediately flashed back to the year before the offer was made. He and his family had been living in Spain at the time, and his son, Martin, had come to him about the possibility of going to McGill University in Montréal. Villaverde had deemed it too far away, and Martin had respectfully accepted his father’s judgment and applied to schools closer to home. Suddenly, though, on the phone with his boss, Villaverde saw his new job opportunity as a bit of fateful serendipity, and he agreed to fly his family over. Martin, who was then able to attend McGill without being far away from family, was more than happy with the change.
By the Numbers: BMW Group Canada
BMW Canada has led the automotive premium segment for the past three years
Best employer awards the company received in 2013
BMW Canada’s sales make the country a top-10 BMW market worldwide
Approximate number of M-series cars that sold in Canada in 2012, the highest share of M products globally
Test-drive kilometres in a BMW pure electric car over the past five years
The opening in Canada came as a surprise, but Villaverde’s experience working in different countries and with their varying cultures prepared him to handle it. “When you work in different countries and see how every single country is different, you see that there’s no right or wrong with cultures,” Villaverde says. “Similarly, when you have to make a business successful, you’ve just got to listen and understand how things are done. And your employees need room to take personal responsibility and actions.” An open mindset and dynamic approach have served Villaverde well over the years, and in addition to landing his company on Great Place to Work Canada’s list, he has earned it spots on Canada’s Top 100 Employers’ 2013 lists of Greater Toronto’s Top Employers and Canada’s Top Employers for Young People.
The total success of BMW Group Canada, from its brand to its employee satisfaction, is Villaverde’s responsibility, and keeping all the elements in balance while introducing new BMW cars, motorcycles, and MINI models is the challenge that keeps him busy. Not based on any existing BMW vehicles, the company’s i-series electric cars are future-forward concepts that will be available this summer (with the i3’s debut) and at the beginning of 2015 (with the i8’s debut). The i3 is a car for urban mobility, and the i8 is more akin to a sports car. “This is one of the most important things to happen at our company in years,” Villaverde says. “Innovation is in our DNA, which is why we have to continue to develop technology that will someday future-proof us.”
According to Villaverde, the difficulties of introducing the i-series cars are similar to those that came with the unveiling of BMW’s iDrive technology in 2000, where questions about viability and the adoption of new concepts dominated the conversation. After more than 10 years, though, iDrive is a proven success and is used in many of the company’s vehicles. BMW is preparing for a shift away from solely providing cars in order to offer more mobility through combinations of products that will provide users with more services in their vehicles. People are moving and communicating in different ways, and BMW wants to be at the forefront in allowing flexibility in one’s individual mobility needs.
But even though Villaverde and BMW are looking to the future, they’re also realistic about the innovations they’re introducing. “The proportion of BMW i vehicles within our total sales will be significantly growing over the next year,” Villaverde says. “The most important thing for me is that we have the technology available for our customers, and with time we will see it grow and play a major role in the future.”
In Canada, the BMW M series of sports cars is number one in terms of market penetration. This means that BMW’s traditional market isn’t going anywhere fast, and its revenues are helping power a brighter, cleaner future. “With every risk,” Villaverde says, “there’s an opportunity, and here the opportunity is enormous.”