Wolfgang Hoffmann speaks with a welcoming German lilt, as he opens up about his humble beginnings. He shares his life lessons with a calm and candidness that makes you want to latch onto his leadership energy, and make something of your own. I stopped in on a grey day to the head office of Jaguar Land Rover Canada, a place filled with friendly faces and people eager to share a story of luxury, hard work, and adventure. Read on to learn about how Wolfgang journeyed in his career from Europe, to America, to our home and native land of Canada.
You have a pretty diverse background (which is obvious). I’d love to hear your point of view on moving from so many international cities, and now landing in Toronto.
I grew up in a relatively average German city. When you grow up in that environment, your dreams go as far as the city limits, and even Munich which was two hours away I would think was such a worldly city. Obviously, when you grow and your experiences broaden, all of a sudden your boundaries expand. When opportunities came up, I would aim to follow my instincts. My first international experience was when I moved to England. I finished my first university degree there because we had a partner program from the place I was studying in Germany. I had a 9pm call on a Thursday night, when I heard a friend of mine was returning from the UK, and another spot became available. Immediately I made the decision to leave, and packed my bags to go. I added a pillow and duvet, maybe had one credit card, and I had maybe an address in Nottingham from a friend. That was pretty much my whole life
You just do it. If I would have thought and planned for all the things that would go wrong, and laid it all out in a plan, then it probably would never have happened. Sometimes you just have to jump in because you realize the potential and what it can do to your life and the expansion of your horizons. You make a decision in a split second, and everything else after justifies your decision.
“Sometimes you just have to jump in because you realize the potential and what it can do to your life and the expansion of your horizons.”
I stayed in the UK for three years. You take life a day at a time. I moved from being a management consultant to the car industry – it was the only product I had a great passion for. Eventually after working my way up in a company, I found an opportunity that took me to the United States. I was very blessed and lucky to see so many places, and now being in Canada it’s similar. It was always a childhood dream, growing up in Germany to come to Canada, the nature paradise. I’ve been away from Europe for about 11-12 years. So far so good.
How have you found readjusting to different places so frequently for new opportunities?
That’s the beauty of working for international companies, being able to move often. The first step is even to let people know that you’re willing to travel by raising your hand. You have be willing to take your roots out of the earth and plant them somewhere else. You always leave a lot of friends and connections behind. I remember the first time I went abroad, there was always an envy for those who move away.
“The first step is even to let people know that you’re willing to travel by raising your hand. You have be willing to take your roots out of the earth and plant them somewhere else.”
People just see the benefits, they don’t see the struggles you go through. I can’t see my family that often anymore, you can’t just get in a car and see people an hour later. That’s tough. Your childhood friends are not the ones you see on Saturday night anymore for a drink. You have to establish new relationships over and over again, and you have to make it worthwhile for others to engage with you too, to establish a friendship. There’s a steep learning curve.
You’ve covered a lot of movement, which is interesting. Life is becoming more global. People feel like they want to uproot their lives consistently because travel is what shapes us. What brings you comfort when you’re moving around so much?
For me, reading German papers or magazines has always been important. Keeping in contact with friends and family is important – but obviously skype vs. in person is different.
Enjoying life with new people and making the effort to get out of your comfort zone is important. The end result is that it relaxes you and it allows you comfort. As long as you’re making positive movement in your private life and work life, you’ll find more ease.
Shifting to automotive – I’m curious about your point of view for automotive and millennials. There’s a big shift in how youth are using cars, whether they decide to purchase one or take part of sharing programs.
It’s a fact of life that a car takes a backseat for youth when they live in core urban centers. But, that doesn’t stay forever. There will be a need for a commute, and people will start families. You might want space and green gardens. Sitting on a Saturday afternoon on a deck outside and reading a book, and not hearing cars all the time gives people peace. Today, most business commuters are taking a car. There’s no other way to get to work – more people change jobs than they change where they live.
On the subject of sharing, it’s not a viable option, most of the times we travel to work from 6-9am, and travel home from 4-7pm. Today my car sits in Mississauga. But in the time and location that it’s there, not many would need it. We have the need to travel a certain number of kilometres a year, and that’s not going to go away. At one point in life it is still important to have your car. I still believe there is an emotional connection to your car – that is something you do not want to share.
In the olden days people didn’t want to share their horses as well. You experience a certain freedom and mobility with cars.
“…there is an emotional connection to your car – that is something you do not want to share.”
You talked about the emotional aspect of owning a car – how are you able to ignite that in a customer?
It’s about performance and luxury. I think in the future these differentiators are still going to exist. We have a lot of history to live up to at Jaguar Land Rover Canada. You have to cultivate the image in every single experience that a customer has. It has to reflect the brand. For example, Land Rover represents the ability to go anywhere. The versatility and mobility are everything. When I was a kid , I played with a Land Rover in my sandbox. It was a simplistic design, and the car was so robust it was everywhere.
If you’re consistent you give something that people can form a connection with. Great brands have the ability to create a connection to their brand and stay true to their values. You can’t compromise that, because a customer feels and sees if there are short cuts. Continue that over and over.
What does modern success in a business and career look like for you?
I don’t think numbers and volumes are necessarily indicating success. That doesn’t show the success with your employees, your retailers, your partners, etc. You have to create relationships. You have to look at various aspects of a business. The human side has more importance than ever before.
On the personal side it’s similar. It’s not just about your career, it’s about doing something that helps other human beings. That’s more important. Do I have meaningful relationships with friends? It’s not the title or the money you make. Do I leave a footprint when I’m gone? What will people say when I’m not around anymore? Are people having fun at my funeral, and do people celebrate that I was around? I can say it was a successful life if my kids are great, without entitlement, and are humble.
The last time I checked, you don’t take anything with you when you leave.