Rolls-Royce CEO Müller-Ötvös to retire after 14 years

LONDON: Torsten Müller-Ötvös, chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd., will retire on Nov 30 after almost 14 years running the brand renowned for stately, expensive cars.

His departure comes in line with BMW Group policies governing the retirement age of top-level executives, a spokesman says. Chris Brownridge, the CEO of BMW UK, will succeed him on Dec 1.

“It took me two years to understand that this is not a car business,” Müller-Ötvös said during a wide-ranging interview on Oct. 3. “The motivation for clients is not ‘I need a car to move from A to B.’ We call it the badge of me: ‘How can I generate something that carries my personal signature? Because, as a client, I’m not buying luxury off the shelf any longer.’”

The debonair German, 63, rejuvenated the company that Charles Rolls and Henry Royce founded in 1906, growing sales by more than 500% since he joined in 2010.

He implemented lucrative customisation programs, introduced the brand’s first SUV and electric vehicle, and reduced the average age of the Rolls-Royce owner from the late 50s to 43—the youngest average customer age of any BMW Group brand.

“Torsten’s outstanding leadership, unswerving commitment, clear vision and exceptional ability to build a strong, focused team have helped make Rolls-Royce the world-class luxury brand it is today,” BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said in a statement. “Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is a jewel in the crown of our organisation.”

Known for his Savile Row suits, well-coiffed hair and charming demeanour, Müller-Ötvös held the top spot at Rolls-Royce longer than any other person since Claude Johnson, who introduced Rolls to Royce in 1904.


Müller-Ötvös is an outlier among his peers at BMW Group, which typically shuffles high-ranking executives every few years. His predecessor, Tom Purves, held the CEO position for two years; Ian Robertson, who preceded him, held it for three.

“For me, it was never a question of whether I should move somewhere else,” he says. “I love the brand, I love the position. For me, it was heaven in a way.”

Müller-Ötvös’s exit comes as the English automaker navigates a new age of EVs and autonomous driving. The company has announced that it will sell its last combustion-engine vehicle by the end of 2030. An all-electric coupe, the US$420,000 Spectre, debuted earlier this year. Client deliveries will begin in November.

“My personal conviction was that electric is great for the brand,” he says, reiterating the company’s commitment to electric power despite news that the UK government has postponed a ban on sales of internal combustion vehicles. “We tested with it and experimented with it [for years]. This is Rolls-Royce 2.0.”

Michael Dean, the global head of automotive research at Bloomberg Intelligence, credits Müller-Ötvös with shaking off a sleepy company culture that had pervaded Rolls-Royce.

“He was bold enough to be the first luxury brand to target being fully electric by 2030, with the likes of Bentley and Maserati following his lead,” Dean says.

“The advice I give to my successor is similar to the advice I gave myself in the beginning: Be humble and listen to all the great experts here on the ground,” Müller-Ötvös says.

“Try to understand the brand, try to understand your clients, talk to them as often as you can. Build an intricate understanding of which details are relevant for them. Build an intricate understanding of luxury. And listen, listen, listen, listen first, before you make quick decisions.”

An avid fly-fisherman, Müller-Ötvös says he will spend his time after November in various consulting and advisory roles.
Autos Rolls-Royce