5 things I have learned from Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen

The boy starts the race late. Not only late, but with what everyone considers an outdated bicycle. He loses the race to those who began earlier with more modern bicycles. He has a year to prepare for the next race and he knows his competitors are already ahead of him. They have reputation, which gives them sponsors, which gives them money to design and build even better bicycles. The boy trains and exercises, but he also starts looking at his bicycle in new ways. He tries to make his bicycle do what others can’t do, and he starts throwing his own money into it. The race comes and once again he loses, but this time he’s much closer than the previous year, so he goes back to rework things. Now he has sponsors too, who help him make even better bicycles. He works tirelessly year after year, knowing that he’s constantly getting closer to first, and soon he’ll be the winner.

Martin Winterkorn is the CEO of Volkswagen and he’s set an aggressive and audacious plan to increase Volkswagen’s importance in the world. Not only does he want it to grow, but he wants it to become the number one car company in the world, pushing past Toyota and General Motors. Winterkorn’s plan has Volkswagon advancing in all markets, turning it into the fastest growing and most sustainable automobile manufacturer in the world. From luxury to high end hybrid, Winterkorn wants to be the best at every outlet available, and seems to be on the road to achieving this goal. Here are five ways he’s doing it.

1. Be audacious.

Winterkorn set out an aggressive plan for Volkswagen that most people considered to be foolish and absurd, but he’s delivering on his promises. Be aggressive and believe in yourself, even when no one else does. Trust your vision to carry you forward and make real change that lasts. Don’t settle for what people say you can and can’t do. If you trust and believe in yourself, you can move mountains.

2. Invest in your future.

Volkswagen is investing $80 billion over the next two years to expand their markets into the developing world and to new technologies. Always be investing in your own company’s future. Look for what comes next and build it. Stay ahead of your competition by putting in the work and spending the money. “You have to spend money to make money.” It’s an old saying but it’s constantly true, and Winterkorn is spending a huge amount on ensuring Volkswagen’s future. Always push towards the next big idea, even if you can’t see it yet.

3. Remain focused on the big goal.

When working with an idea or goal that may take years to come to fruition, it’s important to stay focused. Especially when things are going well and success is at your door. It becomes easy to settle and accept that things will keep improving, but this is the most dangerous time. If you give up for short term success, you’ll never achieve the long and lasting success you initially set out for. Stay focused and work hard. Accept your rewards and congratulations, but don’t let it take your eyes off the real goal. Immediate success is great, but it doesn’t make a career. So keep pushing.

4. Take risks.

Winterkorn’s approach is making a huge risk with the financial future of Volkswagen. If it fails, Volkswagen may not recover, but if it succeeds, Volkswagen may just reach those lofty goals he’s reaching for. While this is probably a bigger risk than you’d be comfortable taking, use it as a guidepost. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, but its failure is equally large. So take risks. Take a lot of risks, but make sure that the risks are worth it, because not all risks are equal.

5. Look for new markets.

This sounds obvious but it’s worth noting. Volkswagen makes many different kinds of cars, but Winterkorn is pushing them into terrain they haven’t been at before. They’re making cars for the developing world, which must be affordable to those markets. There’s no point in marketing a $50,000 car to the developing world, because too few will be able to buy it. He’s also pushing into the growing electric and hybrid markets. Winterkorn’s Volkswagen is going to make cars for everyone, at every stage of their lives, rather than only the luxury brands they’re known for.

Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.