Kirk Cordill ’92 stood in front of a classroom packed with students and professors of economics, all waiting to hear from the youngest BMW CEO to date. People filed in even after the speech started, leaning against the back wall and lining the sides of the classroom. Cordill pensively looked out at the crowd sitting where, 25 years ago, he sat as a student. This year, he returned with an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, five languages under his belt, and 10 years of international business experience.
Cordill said he came to give back to Hillsdale, and to give students a snapshot of a potential business career.
“I was given no road map, no instructions, or prep courses; just a one-way ticket to Beijing, which proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Cordill said in his speech Tuesday. “I learned from it that anything is possible, but nothing is easy.”
Blackstock taught Cordill business law in the early 90s, and stayed in touch ever since. Blackstock said he has brought Cordill to speak to his classes the past couple years so they can hear his methods of creativity and thinking-outside-the-box to solve problems.
“I’ve been after him all along, but he was working in China. With his remarkable career and achievements, he is perfect to speak for my classes,” Blackstock said. “Everything this guy touches accelerates.”
Blackstock said he believed campus would benefit hearing about Cordill, especially regarding his China experience. Blackstock reached out to Nanette Hoberg, manager of alumni events and records, and senior Victoria Tran, president of Enactus, to collaborate a Food-for-Thought luncheon while Cordill was on campus.
Hoberg took over the Food-for-Thought program two years ago. She works with Hillsdale faculty to bring as many speakers with as many career paths to campus as possible.
“Alumni talks resonate with students because you can track their steps to success, from major to goals in life, so students can learn about different career paths,” Hoberg said.
Food For Thought, formerly know as executive-speaker luncheons, started in the 1980s “to help students with observations and advice about their futures that they often do not get from lectures and textbooks,” Grigor Hasted, director of alumni and corporate advancement, said in an email.
Cordill moved to Germany not knowing the language. He started his pre-workday studying German grammar and vocabulary, learning 30-60 words a week. Cordill said he had to learn around 600 words to have basic conversations, and even more to meet BMW’s standards.
“Cordill was always taking risks, accepting challenges, sticking his neck out, and working hard,” Blackstock said. “BMW was trying to enter the Chinese market, and had already failed twice, so they sent him. He had become the go-to guy for bad situations.”
Cordill took over BMW’s certified pre-owned program so that their leased cars would not choke out their new car market.
“He thought, ‘Wouldn’t you rather be driving a three-year old BMW than a Honda?’ And he gave BMW two record years,” Blackstock said.
Cordill retired from being president of BMW financial services in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, to become the dealer principal of BMW of Schererville in Chicago, known for their “drive it like you stole it” billboards across Chicago, Illinois.
The next Food for Thought speaker will speak April 6.
“You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but you have to be able to get along and with other people, and respectfully debate other points of view,” Cordill said. “Hillsdale’s logic and rhetoric courses help with that.”