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When reflecting on the Aug. 8 wildfires blazed that through West Maui, Dennis Short, president of BMW of Hawaii, has been asking the question: “What can we do, today, that will sustain tomorrow?”
“[It] will forever be marked in history as a day of incomprehensible, catastrophic loss for Lahaina and Kula, Maui, and simultaneously, a profound moment that awakened a humanitarian call-to-action for individual and corporate mobilization that was not dependent on a federal first-response,” Short said in a statement.
“Community crisis necessitates timely, decisive, stakeholder leadership across all industries,” he continued. “What corporations fail to realize is that the origin of effective response starts with [that] very simple question.”
In less than a week’s time since the incident, Short had called Shaun Bugbee, vice president and COO of BMW North America, to ask for merchandise donations, specifically clothing, to distribute to affected families on Maui.
“Would you consider a manufacturer-backed cash gift of $500,000?” was his next request.
Within one hour of that ask, the German-headquartered luxury vehicle manufacturer BMW Group donated $1 million, in cash, to the Hawaii Wildfires Relief Fund by its long-standing community partner, The American Red Cross.
BMW Hawaii, which employs more than 225 staff statewide, with dealerships on Oahu, Hawaii Island and Maui, also immediately deployed BMW vehicles to help transport supplies and used its Kahului dealership as a hub for Red Cross staff and volunteers, Short said.
“I am humbled and so very proud of Maui’s grassroots efforts to lean into immediate generosity and firmly believe that their courage deserves corporate backing to sustain the days, months and years ahead,” Short added. “I urge fellow industrial manufacturing partners and [local business] leadership to dig deeper in their response and commitment to Maui.”
Pacific Business News sat down with Short to talk more about the company’s response and how business and the auto industry is faring in Hawaii.
What else can you tell me about BMW Hawaii’s response to the recent wildfires? We hope that the $1 million donation will help Maui rebuild, and to inspire a similar response across all industries. Right now, we’re watching out for the livelihood and well-being of our 23 employees on Maui, who were not directly impacted but quickly jumped in to serve the community. Personally, my wife and I donated to [Hawaii Community Foundation’s] Maui Strong Fund, and we hope to host our annual golf tournament and awards conference on Maui in 2024 to help support Maui’s economy.
BMW of Maui is very busy now. People need cars and transportation again. Shipping is not easy, but we’ve been sending over inventory. Our Maui dealership also offered free inspections, replaced keys, filters and more.
What have you been learning as a leader lately? Engage with your manufacturers and/or subsidiaries. It’s more than selling cars – it’s supporting communities. And as the local business community, we’re all in it for the long-haul. What’s going on in Maui is no less important now than it was then. We’re going to help people get through hard times forever. Align your company, brand, individual person, etc. to further promote stewardship and mindfulness.
What are you currently investing in? Solar and electric vehicle infrastructure – charging, equipment and training. And lots of new products!
What are your strategies for hiring? We’re staying competitive, matching wages for existing employees. We focus more on retention than recruitment with the tight labor pool in Hawaii. Especially [on] Maui, labor was tight during Covid, competing with hospitality [employers].
Year after year, we continue to win the BMW of North America Center of Excellence Award because of our great people and product.
What trends and opportunities for growth are you seeing in the auto industry? We’re monitoring the push for EV – and innovating with new technology – but, what I can tell you is that we are not doing away with internal combustion engines. The infrastructure for EV is a roadblock – and it’s happening everywhere, across the globe. There’s no quick fix, but we are seeking government help to offer paid subsidies for a better end result.
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