How a former BMW CEO Embraced the data transformation

Last Updated: December 14, 2022

In a competitive marketplace, leaders having the right insights to guide their business successfully through the data transformation cannot be prioritized highly enough. According to Prevedere’s recent report, Bridging the Data Divide, over 60% of business and IT professionals report they do not have the best tools and data to provide the strategic, forward-looking insights required to inform C-level executives. Respondents also noted difficulty in understanding how external factors, such as a volatile economy or changing consumer behavior, can affect future product demand.

Ed Robinson, former CEO of BMW Financial Services, joined Prevedere on a webinar titled, “How CEOs Can Make Their Companies Future Proof,” to discuss these findings as well as share his perspective on challenges that executives currently face. He also provided key takeaways for executives and board members to help them think beyond the four walls of their organization.

Q&A excerpt:

Prevedere: What traits are important for leaders?

Ed Robinson: The ability to listen: As I learned early in my career, the people that you employ know more about the business. You have to listen to the professionals that are advising you on what to do and where to go next.

The ability to instill confidence: You need to instill confidence in your team about what they’re doing and where they’re going. They need reinforcement. Listen to them, challenge them constructively, but then instill confidence if you believe in where they’re going.

The ability to admit failure: You have to be able to admit when a project fails and move on. Everyone makes mistakes, but let’s not make the same mistake repeatedly. Admit your mistake, learn from it and move on.

The ability to accept responsibility: Don’t look to blame a mistake on someone else. Cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship. Reach far and try to accomplish things by working together.


Embrace change. Don’t fear it: Change allows us to reinvent ourselves. Our businesses won’t grow without it.

– Ed Robinson

Prevedere: When you were in your various leadership roles, what concerns kept you up at night?

Ed Robinson: You tend to think tactically, worrying about numbers for the month. Thinking strategically, you worry about how fast technology is changing and about where the future of the industry is going. You think about how to maintain the pace.

The new normal is another concern. Do we understand the changing demographics? Millennials and Gen Z – that’s our future. To be ready for this, looking at additional data becomes critical.

Prevedere: Prevedere surveyed leaders across industries and found that they don’t believe they have enough visibility regarding external factors that affect their businesses. Billions are spent on data and analytics every year, but there’s a gap between what executives need and what is being delivered.

Ed Robinson: CEOs run day to day, month to month, year to year looking at tactical measures. Executives spend most of their time talking about the tactical business. Meanwhile, business cycles are becoming faster and more volatile. In many cases, executives aren’t investing enough in time or resources for strategic initiatives.

Most executives are measured on balance scorecards and incentive plans. They’re expected to achieve short-term goals and targets. By nature, these goals drive CEO direction. But this compromises long-term strategy because it prioritizes data and IT investments for immediate needs and ROI.

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One example is General Electric (GE). It used to be praised and is now criticized. As the executive team makes strategic decisions to rebuild and lead GE, they’re being penalized on the stock market because they want to see answers today. They want to see something happen in the next quarter. So they’re driven toward making short-term decisions, but they may be making good decisions that will deliver in three to five years out.

The current stock value is a short-term negative. As long as this keeps happening, companies like GE will be forced to make tactical versus strategic decisions. When it comes to this sort of data divide, we end up driving our data needs toward short-term tactical decisions and not adjusting for strategic elements.

Profitability is such a goal. You always have to outperform the competition. You end up compromising long-term decisions for short-term goals. It’s easy to make long-term decisions when short-term business is good. You can’t make long-term decisions when short-term business is under pressure.

Prevedere: What changes could CEOs implement to keep pace with the changing world?

Ed Robinson: Data-driven insights will help turn the tide. Identify trends that are taking place by looking at the data. The executive suite needs to dedicate time to only look at next period’s strategic decisions. They can look at predictive data to see where things are going.

Prevedere: What are some ways leadership teams can overcome tactical focus and be more strategic?

Ed Robinson: Accept responsibility as the chief executive: Don’t blame others when you miss the monthly targets.

Forget about the daily report: In most industries, it’s probably too late to do anything about it anyway.

Dedicate time for strategic conversations:  Make IT part of that discussion. The IT department isn’t a cost center but a revenue driver. Strong IT helps the business survive. It needs to be focused on not only current but future technology. Think about what your organization will look like three to five years from now.

Don’t be afraid to test new technology and solutions: Make tough decisions that will affect long-term results. Invest in the skills and training of younger professionals. The future of any company is coming from the youth. If you don’t test, you’ll never find out what works and what doesn’t.

Embrace change. Don’t fear it: Change allows us to reinvent ourselves. Our businesses won’t grow without it.

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Recently released report focused on business and IT leaders that were asked to rank their company’s ability to answer critical decisions. More than half of respondents said they were satisfied with their company’s ability to make critical decisions with the right data at the right time. Yet over 60% responded that their biggest challenges were not having the right tools, the right data, or the ability to understand external drivers to their business.

In this webinar, Ed Robinson, former CEO of BMW Financial Services, shares his leadership experience and sheds light on the findings. He also provides key takeaways for executives and board members to help think beyond the four walls of their organization.


About Ed Robinson

Ed Robinson is an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the automotive and financial services industry. Mr. Robinson was CEO of BMW Financial Services, managing over $45B in assets and supporting brands such as BMW, MINI, BMW Motorcycles, Rolls Royce and Husqvarna Motorcycles. His prior experience includes EVP and COO of BMW North America and CEO of BMW Canada. Mr. Robinson is an active member of the tech community as he provides senior advisory services to high growth predictive analytics and online finance companies.