IMD International

Volkswagen executive on how IMD shaped his career

Lars Himmer discusses why his programs opened his eyes and influenced his path

September 23, 2014

"From war to peace, and from rubber to metal," is how Lars Himmer likes to describe his professional path. Before becoming Head of Sales Strategy and Projects for the VW Group Brands, he worked for MAN Truck and Bus and Volvo Trucks, as well as in the chewing gum industry, following a stint with the Danish Royal army and then as a diplomat.

"To be honest, I don't see that much discontinuity. In my view, the product or service is less important than stretching the learning of teams, including myself, around different challenges."

Over several years, he had added numerous layers of strategic learning to his B.Sc. in International Business from Aarhus Universitet, but he still had a dream to attend what he says is one of the best business schools in the world. A compatriot, who is one of many Danish IMD Alumni, advised him to look into the school on Lake Geneva, which he considered more exclusive than many of the US schools.

IMD experience

When Himmer first attended the IMD International Seminar for Top Executives in 2007, he discovered the high level of teaching and learned a great deal from professors Turpin, Kubes and fellow students. "It was a complete eye opener," he said. He also appreciated not being one in a thousand.

"I then entered into the EMBA in 2008 expecting to further develop my leadership and entrepreneurial skills, but what surprised me was the mindset of radical change that we were encouraged to acquire." He also appreciated the brutal pragmatism of the professors, one of whom cautioned him about his aspiration to start his own business by asking simply: "First, how many clients do you already have?"

The father of three young children, whose wife shares what he calls a "single career for two people" Himmer decided instead to change jobs and moved from Volvo in Russia to VW in Germany. This happened in the middle of his EMBA at IMD, so the last six months of the degree were insanely intense, he says.

Five continents

Ideally, he is aiming for another five roles in his career, as long as the jobs are "interesting, challenging and positive" and would like to have lived on five continents in order to continue the international adventure that he has experienced with his family over the last 20 years.

To balance his corporate life, and as his Danish roots remain very important to him, he puts significant effort into promoting Denmark abroad and providing more international perspective to Danes. As a founding member of the Danish Business Club in Moscow and Nordic Chamber of Commerce in Zagreb, and not least in his current role as Goodwill Ambassador for the City of Copenhagen, he hopes to enrich Danish networks with best practice sharing both at home and abroad.

Impact of the digital revolution

The automobile industry is entering, at last, into the digital age and Himmer feels excited about the potential that radical change offers. Not only is technology releasing cars from drivers, but the entire sales strategy is being turned upside down.

Buyers used to visit car dealers an average of five or six times to make up their minds. Now they come to dealers only once or twice to be convinced of the choice that they have already made thanks to the information and benchmarking that they have found online. As a result, auto manufacturers and dealers have to remain one step ahead, connect with the customer earlier online and learn to pitch the sales closure differently. Cars are no longer only about what is under the hood and basic services; the industry must offer mobility with much more flexibility.

The added difficulty is that younger generations are less obsessed with car ownership and much more with flexible mobility. Himmer has to find a way of convincing them into the showrooms, so that they feel and smell the excitement of driving the new cars from the brands of his group.

Lars Himmer is Head, Group Sales Strategy and Projects, Volkswagen AG based in Hannover, Germany. He will be attending the upcoming Biennial International Alumni Event focusing on the digital revolution on 26th and 27th September at the IMD campus in Lausanne.

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