Driven, engaging and passionate – meeting Talita Ferreira puts fresh wind in your sails.
Describing herself as an Intrapreneur, her approach is quite unique, focussing on diversity of thought, authenticity and innovation to deliver what she calls true employee engagement.
I’m delighted Talita offered us this chance to speak to someone making significant changes to such a significant company.
Talita, thanks for taking the time for us. I think most people would be fulfilled with just one competency as a director, but you have several. Time management must be critical. Can you give us some advice about how you keep all the balls in the air?
My view is, it’s all about having a fabulous team and empowering them to make decisions.
The back office needs to be the enabler of an organisation, driving the business’ success and nothing should get in the way of that work.
The easiest thing for people to do is to find a reason why it shouldn’t happen, but you need to foster your strategy through your people. I like making people feel uncomfortable in a nice way – getting them to deliver beyond their own expectations, whilst always being there to support them.
BMW’s CEO, Harald Kruger recently announced that BMW will focus on mastering technology in the future. In his ‘The Next 100 Years’ vision he refers to six statements including ‘Mobility is Becoming Versatile’ and ‘Technology is Becoming Human’. How is your own departmental strategy rising to meet these challenges?
In business today, it is no longer about having the right skills, but the right attitude to adapt to an increasing pace of change.
The back office must ensure our structure and our employees resonate with our customers. We must meet the future head-on. Creativity and engagement are needed to know how our customers think and what they require, both today and tomorrow.
You ran a leadership strategy exchange day with Google and have enabled some transformational changes to the way BMW runs its business, which we will discuss later in this interview. What were your first impressions of Google when you initially visited them?
Google is extremely forward thinking and do things in a simple way. How they learn is revolutionary.
They work intensively on something for 90 days and then clear the deck. I was initially shocked to see this work being cleared away. All that lost effort, but the point is, throughout these 90 days, the learning information is made available for everyone in the company to benefit from.
We learnt from Google how to moderate Colabs [collaboration laboratory workshops], where we take people from different hierarchical levels and functional areas but everyone in the room communicates on the same level.
Another great thing was their 360-degree approach, which focuses on two questions: what should you keep doing and what should you refrain from doing?
This helped me a lot to develop my relationship to my own team of direct reports. When something went wrong I would always ask for more information, but they thought I wanted more details. They would create in-depth reports whereas I just wanted to understand exactly what had happened to influence the outcome.
I learnt that I sometimes needed to be clearer and explain what the thinking is behind some of my questions and choices.
BMW UK’s new head quarters are really impressive. You championed the project to move here, but can you tell us exactly what you were trying to achieve?
We are in the process of co-locating three companies onto one site here in Farnborough, Hampshire. We acquired the site in 2013 and, following renovation, our first two companies moved here in 2014 and 2015.
The workspace is designed around the culture and we strived to create a fresh, modern working environment based on our new cultural values.
The whole site is designed to make people collide. We say ‘you must first collide before you can fuse’.
So we have collaboration areas, encounter zones, no set desks and we have mixed two of our businesses together. We of course let the teams sit together, but basically BMW branding is in this building whilst MINI branding is in another.
There is also something interesting in every building. There is a collaboration lab and coffee shop in the MINI building. There are restaurants in the other two buildings and the restaurants don’t offer the same food. We have a massive big open space we call a Town Hall in this building, which you can use in any way you want to use it.
Our third company, Alphabet, will move in May this year. It is a fleet leasing entity which needs a measure of independence from the sales company so they will occupy , the upper floors of the third building, but we will still encourage movement and interaction.
We even have a “cherry blossom” room in that Alphabet building with cherry blossoms on walls and beanbags. We inherited the décor from the sites previous inhabitants and decided to keep it the same way when renovating.
You have also been heavily involved in re-shaping the BMW UK culture. How did this cultural programme influence the new workspaces?
When Alphabet joins us, 1200 people will work together at this site. As you can imagine the traditional values of BMW Financial Services, Alphabet and our national sales company, BMW UK, were as contrasting as their purposes.
In moving onto one site, we wanted to enable and nurture a common personality, something which binds us and which you sense and feel in all that we say and do.
Our internal brand ‘What Moves You’ was born with the support of an external agency, which worked with 80 of our significant role players across all three businesses. The brand is built on three pillars, ‘Being Me’, ‘Being part of the BMW Family’ and ‘Being part of the Future of BMW’.
Our leaders must be role models, so these pillars are translated directly into our three new values ‘Authentic’, ‘Collaborative’ and ‘Inspirational’.
And what about your own departments. How have these cultural shifts affected you and your team personally?
The back office delivers the results and focus should be placed on utilising this resource to enable the maximum possible benefit to any organisation.
To start with, I changed the collective name of all my departments to reflect the value we create. We had, for instance, Finance and Admin, but HR is not administration. Now this group is called BDE – Business Development and Enabling.
Following this value-driven approach we ensured the cultural change was driven through effective alignment, employee engagement, training, development, role modelling and even inspirational talks.
You see, change can be seen like a chain and every individual link needs to change to deliver an overall success.
I get tired of all the pessimistic blogs these days telling us that change is almost impossible. However, it does require determination. What key challenges did you need to overcome throughout your project?
I would agree you need a high level of tenacity. Traditionally, I thought change meant you make convincing arguments, communicate well and people will follow.
Change is not like that: it’s like saying the same thing 100 times over almost in 50 different ways. Everything you say and do is aligned to that change.
It’s not about bottom up or top down. It is all of these things, all at once. Change must be driven at all levels in all directions.
So I mentioned our three new values, ‘Authentic’, ‘Collaborative’ and ‘Inspirational’. Well these are underpinned by five cultural shifts.
- Complexity to Simplicity
- Hierarchies to Networks
- Controlling to Empowering
- Work Persona to Being Yourself
- Office Hours to Work Life Balance
We expect our leaders to act as role models and as motivational speakers instead of office managers, but we are all human and are naturally more aligned to some of those values than others.
You must make the need and personal benefits transparent to the individual by creating what I call their own distinctive ‘burning platform’
Some people say you can have one message on change, but you can’t – you need many messages. The core strength to rely on here is is individualisation. Build the arguments in a way that the audience understands and creates a burning platform for them.
Were any of these shifts particularly challenging?
‘Hierarchies to Networks’ refers to the way we make decisions. We want to make sure that the employees who interact most with our customers have a strong voice in our organisation. So we hold multilevel collaboration labs, in which everyone has the right to an opinion and the empowerment to make a choice.
This shift is radical, but does not mean that we have done away with our organisational structure. Some middle managers were fearful that this might be the case and our change programme needed to also take care of these hurdles.
As you can imagine, we faced similar challenges when moving to an output instead of attendance driven approach.
We really needed to get all our managers on board and needed to offer a lot of support and leadership development in that debate so they could see what needs to be done and, ultimately, to drive efficiency.
Is it all about the middle managers, or does the board also play a role in cultural change?
As I mentioned, a new culture will only survive with the right role models. The tone from the top sets a precedent. It has long been accepted that Directors tend to focus relentlessly on strategy but as Executive Directors we must invest in a sustainable culture, which will deliver the necessary change.
Matrix organisations can be challenging and their effect on international corporate culture fascinates me. How do you meet the right balance between being part of BMW UK, and your membership of the Munich-based corporate Finance and HR teams?
There is a very clear framework at BMW regarding how things are done. We are a rules-based organisation, which is great when you work in Munich or for engaging with 150 subsidiaries.
Working in a matrix organisation, the key thing is to know where the boundaries are. When do I need to just inform and when do I need to really go through all the right levels.
The topic here is about having values, which fit into the local environment but also fit into the overall framework.
You do however need to know how to flex to be an Intrapreneur. For instance, I once wore a denim skirt to a no jeans BMW function.
I told my audience I have worn this because I wanted to demonstrate something: we should all respect our clear rules but also know how to enable the business by being flexible within those rules.
If you could turn back time, would you do anything differently?
We have already moved two companies and the last company was originally planned to move here in 2017. Now they will come in 2016 because they are so eager. It is so pleasant to work here.
The first move, however, was high stress. We did sell the new environment, but only at the last minute. Our colleagues had been in Bracknell for 30 years and the change was hard for them, moving from an industrial park to this kind of environment.
Once everyone arrived of course, they changed their opinion almost immediately. After half a day, they loved it. It’s such a nice place to work. Of course we invited people to visit before the move, but it was a building site. It would have helped to have some virtual way of showing them how the space was going to be.
My normal state is “empower the team”, but I needed to be very hierarchical whilst managing the move, which is incongruous with my people development values. It’s hard to know for sure whether it would have been better, but I feel less hierarchical decisions and more empowerment would have helped the process given that we would have more time.
Diversity is obviously high on the agenda of any HR specialist at the moment and I know you have been very active in that area. What is your pitch on how to find the right balance?
Gender diversity is no longer enough. In a rapidly changing world, we must rely on diversity of thought and allow people to bring their ‘whole self ‘to work. . Authenticity will be key in the next evolution of Corporate culture.
Whilst equality and status may have been key drivers in the past, the Millennials are driven by collaboration and working in teams to solve issues. Their understanding of inclusion and diversity is different to that of the past.
It was only when I left BMW that I truly appreciated the kudos associated with my role. With so many applicants, how do you differentiate between the people who want to contribute to the brand and those who simply apply in order to ride the BMW wave?
We always focus on the best talent for the role. I really don’t know how many are just riding the wave, but I don’t feel we have very many.
You know, people development becomes very uncomfortable if you don’t come to work to contribute.
I know it’s a standard, classic question, but I would be a fool not to ask you what advice you can give to people applying for their first job or going for their first interview?
I hire for attitude, because I can train skill. It is much more important to me to hire someone with the right work ethic, assuming the role and the timing can accept a period of skills development.
Be authentic. Be yourself. Find your passion. Don’t measure yourself against others. Decide what you want to achieve and take the best shot you can at being you. As Judy Garland said, ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.’
Thanks a lot for this interview!
Great teams deliver beyond their own expectations
Some words about Talita Fereirra:
Talita Ferreira is BMW UK’s CFO. Her role oversees Finance, HR, Risk, Strategy, Insurance, Purchasing, Cultural Change Management and Employee Engagement.
Born in South Africa, she first worked for KMPG, then moved into investment banking before joining BMW South Africa’s Finance Team.
She moved to the Munich based BMW Financial Services Controlling Team taking on various international responsibilities, and used the opportunity to learn German.
Promotion brought her to the UK in 2005 as BMW Financial Services CFO, where she was also responsible for HR for the first time. Her passion for true employee engagement was born and she has been championing transformational change since her arrival in the UK.
Describing herself as an Intrapreneur, her approach is quite unique, focussing on diversity of thought, authenticity and innovation.
Talita’s passion for diversity of thought does not limit itself to the BMW boundaries and she is a regular inspirational speaker investing her experience in the next generation.