He's polite and understated, and is like putty in the hands of the stylist and the photographer. You'd be forgiven for thinking he's like that at his workplace, too. But he didn't get to where he is without that extra something.
Drive, shall we call it? He strives to do what he can to take the German marque as far as he can. For him, it's not just about doing a job. “Love what you do,” he says.
In the 100-odd years of its existence, from a small aero-engine manufacturer based in the north of Munich, Germany, to making engines for boats and trucks, BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) has turned into a world class brand of coveted automobiles and motorcycles. It tasted its first sporting success in 1924 when engineer and racing driver Rudolf Schleicher achieved the best time riding a BMW R 32 in the hill-climb on the steep Mittenwalder Gsteig. In 2003 the Rolls-Royce brand became part of the BMW Group and presented the first model of the new era: the Rolls-Royce Phantom. BMW 1 Series took birth in 2004 (currently it's the 7 Series with 8 on the anvil). By 2005, the BMW Group was listed for the first time in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index as the world’s most sustainable automobile manufacturer. Some other landmarks came in the way of public recognition: BMW i3 got the Green Steering Wheel award, while the BMW i3 and BMW i8 got the World Green Car award.
My philosophy in life: Love what you do
This is the legacy that Vikram Pawah takes forward. Under his leadership since Jan 2017, BMW has jumped a rank from number three to number two position just behind industry leader Mercedes, and upped its annual market share by a whopping 25 per cent. Heading the brand in key markets, he travels so much, he could be forgiven for forgetting time zones. Instead, he utilises every moment constructively. One would expect that he'd catch up on sleep on long haul flights. But that's when he catches up on movies or with his reading. His taste is as eclectic as his life is busy. From real life spy accounts (Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal most recently, to Jhumpa Lahiri), he will read just about anything (that is, apart from his auto stuff).
With a father who was an aeronautical engineer in the Indian Air Force, Vikram travelled the length and breadth of the country. Every three years, as is the way in the armed forces, the family would be posted to a new place. That meant making friends quickly and developing varied interests. Which part of the country does he identify with the most? He looks taken aback. “I've been all over... Adampur, Chandigarh, Belgaum...you tell me. Now, Delhi, I guess, because my parents are here.” He doesn't say it but his heart seems to be in Australia (he lived there for 12 years) and loves to go back there for a holiday. Now as chairman of the BMW Group in India / CEO of BMW group in Australia and New Zealand, he can.
He didn't want to be an engineer like his dad and brother, so he studied commerce at Delhi University. But it was always auto for him. “My dad used to love to take apart all things mechanical, cars, bikes and what have you and then put them together again.” This is what the son imbibed and grew up to love as well. Schooled at various places around the country, a Middle Management Development Program from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, an MBA from Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia and then he was on to a career in the automobile sector. A large part of his overall work experience was with Honda Cars India. As with every experience that leaves its mark, his stint with a Japanese firm, did, too. “The Japanese are known to be dedicated,” he says when he's asked to comment on a takeaway. No one can accuse him of not having that quality. Flying in from Korea in the morning, he's chipper and gung-ho about the photo shoot almost as if he hasn't landed from an international flight only a few hours earlier. As busy as he is he manages to pack in a lot. The job is hectic and heading the group in India, Australia and New Zealand means that he gets pulled in
I don't have time to do everything I want. I can do only so much in a day
With frequent car launches, travel both domestic and international is a given. But he can't get enough of it. Downtime often means road trips. He's a car man through and through. “That's the way I like to see a place,” he says. “You can observe the changing topography and get a look and feel of a place if you drive to it. I'd much rather travel by road than be air dropped to a destination. If you do that you tend to miss so much else.” He and his family have toured Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kerala to name a few domestic road trips. “In a BMW, of course,” he laughs when prodded. “But what else?” He loves going to Europe, any part of it. “Spain,” he says when nudged. “Barcelona and Bilbao. There are some great drives there...As I said, I like seeing things in motion. Slow change is interesting and you see more when you drive to a place.”
Travel can be on water, too. Last year there was a cruise to Spain, Italy and France. “I loved going on a cruise. One can enjoy so many places in a short time, all without the hassle of having to organise things yourself. And there's so much to do on a ship.”
Two-wheelers are his other passion and he's done a stint at Harley-Davidson India. When he was growing up, he fervently wanted a Yamaha (one of the few in the market, back then). “We are a regular middle class sort of family and couldn't afford one.” But his father saw how badly he wanted to own that bike and offered to pay half the sum. For Vikram that was enough. “I did any number of odd jobs, like getting posters printed, to collect the money until I finally got it.” The delight on his face is evident even after all these years. “I'd ride to Hindon on it, that's a 50km stretch on what could not be called a road back then.”
Now years later, the same
passion and focus are on display when he's one of the riders at the launch of the brand's motorcycles in Delhi. Wheelies, stoppies, burnouts – any acrobatics you can imagine, and with all the swagger of a stuntman when he pulls off his helmet after a satisfying adrenaline-filled half-hour.
He used to love trekking, but some things get left behind and now there's family that takes precedence. “There isn't time to do everything. I can only do so much in a day. ”
Food is another interest. There are old favourites he keeps going back to. “Spice Route at The Imperial in Delhi serves fantastic food. Also, the Oberoi Coffee Shop, although, I preferred it in its older avatar.” Then there's the iconic United Coffee House in the Capital. “I remember coming home and going there at least once.”
He has an effortless casual chic and admits he's partial to Hugo Boss suits. There's a faint awkwardness about throwing around brand names. “They fit me the best,” he says. “It's the only brand that doesn't need to be altered.” Other than that he's not really a shopper.
He lives the philosophy. “Enjoy what you do.” He does. Certainly.
Pictures: Harsh Mishra