September 12 2010
“On average I spend only two days a week at Ingolstadt – the rest of the time I am travelling. At present I go to China and the States the most – two hugely important and expanding markets for Audi – as well as to various cities in Europe. There are often perfect restaurants in the hotels where I stay, but for me dinner is about exploring, changing the atmosphere, feeling the pulse of where we are. If privacy is not an issue, I like to take recommendations from our people locally and meet in places which are part of that learning experience.
In a city like Shanghai, for example, you need to take a breath of what is going on in society. Enjoying a good dinner is one thing, but it can also give you feedback about consumer purchasing power, what is happening in the market, how people live and what their aspirations are. Sit in Cloud 9 at midnight on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt in the Pudong district of Shanghai, enjoying a glass of champagne, and you can observe all of these things. For the Chinese, owning an automobile is part of getting their freedom – something we take for granted in the West. Three years ago, we finalised an important business deal with a Chinese company on a sunny day at the Commune by the Great Wall hotel, about an hour’s drive from Beijing. It is a quiet place and we were surrounded by nature, but it was one of the most significant deals we have ever struck.
If we are entertaining business guests at Ingolstadt, I’ll book one of the private rooms in our own restaurant, Avus (pictured), for dinner. Lunch is no good because I am in meetings for most of the day. Avus is open to the public and the cooking is excellent – I particularly like the sea bass baked in sea salt – it gives us a chance to show a part of our company’s culture. There are three private rooms, each named after an Audi racing driver – Rosemeyer (after Bernd Rosemeyer), Stuck (after Hans-Joachim Stuck) and Nuvolari (after Tazio Nuvolari). Avus is our business card to our guests. It also offers absolute discretion, so you can discuss things in a very different way.
If we don’t eat there, there are some excellent places in Munich, about 50 miles away. Guests enjoy an evening at Gandl, which not only has a very private atmosphere but also makes the best Bellinis in the city. The meat is excellent too. For me, it is important to take time over a meal. I lived in Barcelona for three years and learnt there the importance of not being in a hurry, the pleasure of enjoying a good dinner then savouring an excellent brandy and a Cuban cigar.
In the US, Audi’s base is in Virginia, just outside of Washington DC, but I also travel extensively to LA, New York and Miami. Last year we held the world premiere of the A8 at Design Miami, an event we have sponsored since 2006. It was an adventure, something progressive and different. I enjoy a good steak when I am in the States and found the perfect one at STK in the Meatpacking District of New York last time I visited.
Of course, European cities are also very important to us. When attending the Paris motor show, I like to visit Pierre Gagnaire, which does excellent oysters with a nice Alsace wine. In London, I have had very fruitful meetings at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley in Knightsbridge. I can also recommend Ristorante 12 Apostoli in Verona.
For me the real advantage of sitting down to eat with someone is that it can speed up decision-making business significantly. At Audi, it is my responsibility to give 58,000 people a clear direction, but the way we operate on the board is more like a small entrepreneurial company. The doors are open, we talk to each other and take quick decisions. Our culture is about being fast and dynamic – we want to be like a speedboat, not a big, cumbersome tanker.”