One-on-One with Maserati USA's Jim Selwa

This veteran of the luxury-auto sector -- from Rolls-Royce to BMW -- discusses his reasons for switching to the sports-car maker

Jim Selwa, a 31-year veteran of the auto biz, could be called a beneficiary. He has moved around some in the automobile business based on an enviable record of success. In fact, Selwa just might be the poster boy of upward mobility in the rarefied atmosphere of luxury and super-luxury automobiles.

His luxury vehicle career began in the mid-80's when he handled the marketing for Rolls-Royce and Bentley at an advertising agency; in the early 90's Selwa owned and had a significant turnaround in Lotus in North America; later in that decade, he ran Land Rover marketing when it was owned by BMW. After a brief stint with ASC as vice-president of sales and marketing, the not-shy, soft spoken or bashful Selwa took on a major challenge and the prestigious car job of car jobs: the American reintroduction of Rolls Royce, serving as President of the North American division. Now, that's an impressive business card anywhere, tasked with the responsibility of leading the world's most famous and prestigious brand of motor cars. I've known Selwa for several years and have spoken with him often, both on and off the record. Well, actually never off-the-record, not with his candor, frankness, pertinent observations, knowledge and accomplishments in the industry. A recent session was no different. MB: First, tell me a little about you your experience at Rolls? What did you accomplish?JS: Within 18 months of the launch in America, Rolls-Royce became the clear leader in the ultra luxury market. The Rolls-Royce Phantom out sold Maybach by a wide margin. We sold more Rolls-Royce motor cars in 2004 than any other period since 1991. And did it from scratch with minimal budgets, less dealers and internal staff than the competition.MB: OK, but why the switch to Maserati which had not been having great years?JS: I never really wanted to fit into the big car company mold -- never aspired to run a company like GM, but I have developed an entrepreneurial approach and style that seems to work well within the big car company environment. I don't think I'm going to change my style at this point, I don't think I can change.MB: Style comments acknowledged, but I'd still like to know why?JS: Maserati brought me in because of who I am and what I've done. This is small entrepreneurial company with not a lot of pomp and circumstance and bureaucracy. They wanted someone who could move fast and sell cars. I can run in that kind of environment. MB: So, basically it was the personal and professional challenge? JS: At this point in my career it was a great honor to be asked to run Maserati -- to restore the image and raise the consumer profile of this great automotive brand. Ferrari provided all the engineering to build the best product for the market segment. That's a great starting point. MB: What are your priorities? JS: My task, my challenge is to strengthen the dealer network and launch new products on a very tight budget, raise awareness in North America, and obviously, increase sales of Maserati vehicles. MB: Don't you think that market segment, the $100K+ group, is getting a bit over-crowded with offerings?JS: I have always specialized in niche markets, as they use to be called, since the mid 80's when I handled the marketing for Rolls-Royce and Bentley, in the early 90's when I owned Lotus in North America and then again in the late 90's when I ran Land Rover marketing. It all boils downs to figuring out how to be the market leader - running fast and staying lean. MB: There are only so many millionaires in America who can afford what most people would consider an ultra-luxury car at one-hundred grand or more. Hasn't the marketplace become overcrowded and saturated?JS: Think about this fact, Rolls-Royce and Bentley combined never hit 900 units in the past five years. In 2004, including Maybach, the numbers totaled to just over 900 units and that is at the very upper end of the price bracket."

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