Ulrich Bez

Just like the luxury brand he presides over, the CEO of Aston Martin wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond film. He has taken the car giant to new heights by steering the brand along some unexpected routes

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Born in Cannstatt, Germany, in 1943, Ulrich Bez took over the helm of Aston Martin in 2000. Much has happened at the motoring giant since the silver-haired industry veteran stepped in. He’s been credited with masterminding a slew of strategic initiatives to build brand awareness and to heighten the company’s appeal. Taking every opportunity to do so, and to give Aston Martin a face, Bez is something of a permanent fixture in the annually held 24 Hours Nürburgring endurance race, in which he’s entered different models and achieved quite impressive results.In the race that took place in 2009, Bez and his Aston Martin V12 Vantage passed the finishing line in 21st place.

New cultural phenomenon

To mark his first successful decade with the company, a book was published last year.

Penned by Bez himself, the volume is entitled Mr Aston Martin. Self-promoting as he may seem, Bez is not all hot air. On the practical side, he orchestrated the move of the company’s headquarters to Gaydon in the UK in 2003 from its former base in Bloxham, Banbury. He’s also led the development and introduction of a number of new car models, including the DB9, Vanquish, V8 Vantage and Rapide. Never complacent, the head of the high-end automobile manufacturer constantly looks at ways to improve the cars that form part of the Aston Martin stable. In the past couple of years, both the DB9 and the V8 Vantage models have undergone a number of enhancements to improve driver experience and general performance.

Productive and equipped with automobile expertise, Bez holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Stuttgart. A prolific author of scientific works on the motor industry, Bez has penned over 40 articles on the subject. His professional background is no less impressive, and his CV reads like the car industry’s hall of fame. Merits include positions at BMW and Daewoo, and most notably, Bez was in charge of the development and introduction of the Porsche 993 − the model widely regarded as the finest 911 of all time. At Daewoo Motors meanwhile, Bez held the position of Vice President of Engineering. During his five year tenure at the company, he helped to mastermind the development of a range of different models, such as the Daewoo Matiz, Daewoo Lanos, Daewoo Leganza and the Daewoo Nubira.

A man of integrity
Seven years into his position at Aston Martin, a major change took place in 2007 which saw mother company Ford sell the cult car manufacturer to a consortium led by British automotive entrepreneur David Richard. In an interview published by Insideline.com following the takeover, Bez observed: “The deal will allow us to develop an Aston Martin culture, which is more important than – and different from – a national culture. The Ford culture is defined in a big book, but Aston Martin is not like that. Most of our employees have been with us for less than five years and our culture will develop out of these people and how they work together.”

Clearly, Bez is a people’s man, and he puts much emphasis on his staff. Cutting a recognisable figure in Gaydon, the sight of Bez whizzing around in his Rapide – one of the latest models in the Aston Martin stable – is a frequent one. It’s a fetching automobile he possesses – a right-hand-drive model built in 2009, featuring Obsidian Black leather interior with Falcon Grey top-stitching and black carpets offset by walnut veneers.

Demonstrating that he has more maturity and generosity than a child with a new shiny toy, in spring 2011 Bez donated the car to an auction organised by Bonhams to raise funds for Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck in March.

The act of generosity made headlines, and personified Bez as a businessman with a heart.

Brand visibility
But the man is not one to keep quiet if something bothers him. A vocal critic of the proposed carbon dioxide emissions regulations in Europe, Bez believes that the rules should be based on the amount of CO2 emitted each year by a vehicle instead of the emissions emitted per kilometre. In an interview published in the Financial Times, Bez described the regulation – which would mandate carmaker fleets average just 120-130g of CO2/km – as unfair and solely based on business and political motivations. His argument is that an Aston Martin is typically driven 6,000 miles a year, while most other cars tally up 10,000 to 15,000 miles. Hence, Aston Martin’s contribution to global warming would be comparatively minor.

Although Bez’s campaign made sense to most, critics argued that his green credentials weren’t too pronounced. To prove them wrong, Bez has masterminded many projects to make Aston Martin rise in the sustainability stakes – a shining example being the development of an electric version of the Cygnet city car. The car was the first ever Aston Martin EV to hit the market. In the summer of 2011, the company entered two new Cygnets into the fifth annual Bridgestone Eco-Rally.

Less environmentally friendly, lately Aston Martin has increased production quite significantly, which has got tongues wagging that the manufacturer might compromise its exclusivity as a result. Speaking to Insideline.com, Bez asked rhetorically: “What is exclusivity? Six years ago, the world did not know about Aston Martin. Brands such as Louis Vuitton or Gucci are highly visible, but that doesn’t make them any less desirable. To be exclusive, you have to be visible. You need an existence.”