Conversations with MINI USA VP Jim McDowell
Jim McDowell, head of MINI North America, blends in rather well with a cluster of MINI owners. Perhaps that’s because in many ways, he is one of them. He drives MINIs. His adult kids drive MINIs. He’s the kind of guy that will flag down on an ice cream truck in the middle of Indiana driving a 2011 MINI Countryman. Jim McDowell is the essence of cool MINI style.
“MINI comes the closest to my personality from the perspective of the brands that I’ve worked with,” he tells me on a Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis. Clad in shorts, a MINI T-shirt and sneakers, he’s not going for pomp and circumstance on the road. He’s somewhat of a star amongst the MINI contingent at MTTS. They seek him out and pose for pictures, all the while with large smiles plastered on their faces. Mr. McDowell stays humble and doesn’t appear to relish the attention. He’s most interested in learning about them and finding out about their journeys. He can pick them out on a first-name basis and seems genuinely happy as each one approaches.
“You have a certain amount of openness amongst the owners,” he said. He’s fascinated and enchanted by their stories – and he has hundreds. Each time I’ve spoken with Mr. McDowell over the past week, he shares a MINI owner story with me – about the couple who had MINIs on their wedding cake, about a MINI physician who paints her nails yellow to match her yellow custom MINI and about the MINI family that is traveling the country with three kids and two MINIs.
“They are open to new experiences,” he said. He doesn’t categorize MINI owners, but draws from the research that examines their ways of thinking. “There’s a certain playfulness. They’ve never lost their inner child.” He’s quick to cite psychographic groups of MINI buyers, which he defines as performance enthusiasts, design statement makers, social connectors and those who buy MINI for emotional reasons. His field research adds to his careful perspective. MINI takes up a good part of Mr. McDowell’s schedule in his off time. He participates in four major events this year and gets together with MINI owners almost every other weekend.
One of his definitive MINI stories was quelled from the pages of MINIs On Top, an event that coincides with the summer solstice. Owners journey to the top of Mount Washington to witness the longest sunset. “One guy was not too good with a manual,” he recalled. Without skipping a beat a group of owners surrounded the car and pushed him up the mountain. “That’s the spirit of the MINI community,” McDowell said with a proud grin. After our conversation, he excused himself to go to dinner with yet another group of MINI owners.