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Want to prosper in the digital age? Move to Singapore

Ms Hildegard Wortmann.


FOR Hildegard Wortmann, Singapore is the place to be. The senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific at BMW Group moved here in January to take up a role that was created when the Bavarian luxury car maker reorganised its sales regions.

With 423,148 units sold in the first half of the year, her territory covers a market that is BMW's second biggest - it ranks behind Europe, is ahead of China, and is twice as big as North America.

Ms Wortmann will have to keep an eye on 20 markets from the newly established regional headquarters here, whereas BMW used to manage the region from its home base in Munich.

Moving here has been an eye-opener so far, she told The Business Times. "It makes a big difference when you live here," she said. "You're a part of this society, and that's very different from flying in from headquarters and coming here for a couple of days and then you fly out again."

One example of something she noticed by being closer to the market is that nearly a third of BMW customers in Australia are ethnic Chinese. Knowing that led BMW to prepare a special Chinese New Year marketing campaign.

She spoke to BT at DLD Singapore, a conference for tech entrepreneurs, business leaders, venture capitalists, and other digitally-savvy types. The letters stand for "Digital Life Design". The conference was held for the first time in this part of the world on Monday.

Ms Wortmann delivered the keynote address about doing business in Asia, during which she identified key characteristics of consumers here. Half of the world's population under the age of 30 lives in Asia, she said, adding that she expects them to drive consumer trends in the coming years.

That means companies will have to deliver fast, top-notch service. "This is, for me, a nation and an area that has the highest expectations in terms of service. Anything can be delivered to your home within a couple of hours," she said. "Expectations are met immediately."

Ms Wortmann said customers here also want to be the first to see the latest and greatest. "It really matters," she said. BMW held some of the earliest closed-door previews of its i8 Roadster in Asia for this reason.

But it's the way digitalisation is shaping life here that seems to get her most excited. She pointed out that she lives in a condominium without keys: "It's all biometric, that's all I need," she said, and singled out DBS as an example of how to reach customers right.

"DBS is one of the most digital companies I've seen. I think over 60 per cent of their customers have gone digital already, and I can only tell you, the use of their app is amazing," she said. "Everything is there. But this just meets the expectations of consumers in this region."

Noting that the region has become a "mobile-first" society, she said: "I would even dare to say 'mobile-only'. Webpages? Yes, you could have them, but really, everything is on your mobile phone."

In her view, the one mistake multinational companies should never commit is to underestimate the sheer scale of the market here. Many pay attention to large markets such as the United States and China, but lump countries here under a line that says "rest of world". It is something she said she would never do again. "This is not 'rest of world'; this is the centre of Asia," she said.

"This is the region that drives the future technologies. It drives the expectations of customers, and I'm sure that we will soon see many of these expectations very soon around the world," Ms Wortmann said.

Things are moving so rapidly here that she has started to feel sorry for her colleagues back in Munich. "I feel already the world is a little bit slower over there," she said.

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