Driven To Excel: BMW Financial Services

By Terence F. Shea Jul 1, 2005

HR Magazine, July 2005 #24 Medium Company

It’s easy to see why employees like working at BMW Financial Services in Dublin, Ohio. Just look at the employee parking lot—the one filled with acres of BMWs.

A free or nearly free new BMW (depending on job level, but costing employees no more than $320 a month), including insurance and maintenance, is just one of the generous benefits that help the company’s call center operation recruit and retain top workers.

Another attraction is the health coverage—all premiums paid by BMW Financial, no deductibles, modest co-payments for doctor visits and prescription drugs, even infertility treatments with a lifetime coverage maximum of $30,000. Moreover, retirees retain health coverage—and their shiny BMWs.

Such perks for employees pay dividends for BMW Financial. The health benefits alone can seal the deal with a prospective hire and, over the long term, help foster employees’ “great sense of loyalty,” which helps keep turnover low, says Stephanie Augenstein, director of HR. And the BMWs, she notes, help employees talk knowledgeably—and enthusiastically—with customers about the product.

For example, customer relations manager Judy Bardwell takes “escalated calls”—from those who may have special concerns or seem agitated. (“I hug and kiss them back to reality,” she says.) Typically, she and the caller wind up finding common bonds as they talk about their cars and options packages.

The company’s benefits—along with the modern facilities and sophisticated technology— “allow us to recruit and retain top-caliber associates who, in turn, produce outstanding results,” says John Christman, who is taking on an international assignment after nearly four years as CEO. “Simply put, this is a business model that works for all involved.”

BMW Financial Services, part of the German carmaker’s Munich-based financial division, is headquartered in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., where recently appointed CEO Ed Robinson and about 50 administrative employees are based. There’s also a banking unit with about 25 employees in Salt Lake City. But the largest operation, with roughly 475 employees, is the call center in Ohio, run by Sanjay Chhabria, vice president of operations.

The center’s employees handle financial matters such as credit for dealers and lease or loan payments from customers. They also resolve customers’ concerns and solicit their feedback on their cars and their contacts with BMW.

“Our customers are not shy,” says Larry Armino, who manages customer service employees. As a result, the company seeks out employees who have the right makeup for good customer service. “We hire for attitude, not skills,” says Armino. “We teach skills.”

In fact, employees receive about 40 hours of training yearly. They also can broaden their skills and experience by moving to new positions. For example, Erin McCarty is leaving collections to become a specialist in evaluating credit applications. Emily Preble, Chhabria’s executive assistant, is becoming a team leader in customer service. And customer relations manager Bardwell, once a collections specialist, has had stints in insurance and finance.

Employees describe the environment as open and cooperative—“very positive,” says cash specialist Abdulkadir Ali, who processes payments and appreciates co-workers’ friendly suggestions. Project manager Jay Wilson, who tailors information technology for HR and other departments, describes his job as helping other people do their jobs better.

What sets the company apart, says Bardwell, is that “we’re all treated with respect—and treated nicely.” There’s no growling when things go wrong, she adds. The pervasive spirit is always, “What can we do to help?”

—Terence F. Shea


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