BMW executive Jack Pitney, considered one of the company’s rising stars, has been killed in a freak accident on his farm outside New York City.
A tractor the BMW executive was driving flipped while Pitney was trying to remove a tree stump, according to a police report.
Just 47, Pitney was given much of the credit for helping the German maker craft the successful U.S. launch of the Mini brand. He was about to be reassigned from his post as BMW’s chief marketing officer to a regional post, raising questions about the direction his career was taking, but inside sources contend the move was meant to broaden Pitney’s skill set, and not as a demotion, as some initial reports had suggested.
Indeed, the upcoming appointment as Eastern Regional Manager, set to go into effect on Sept. 1st, was precisely the sort of non-traditional move Pitney had been known to make during his brief but impactful career.
Before joining BMW in 1995, he served as corporate communications manager for Mazda Motors of America, and after the move his initial role was as a PR “flack” for the German company, as well. But his interest in marketing was obvious and he landed a plum – if risky – assignment with the Mini brand as its new general manager, in 2001, shortly before its launch.
BMW’s goal was to completely revamp the struggling British maker, modernize its products and then introduce it into the U.S. at a time when the market was dominated by full-size pickups and gas-guzzling SUVs. It was a challenge Pitney relished, recalls Marty Bernstein, a former advertising industry executive and marketing columnist for TheDetroitBureau.com.
“Pitney was probably the best corporate thinker in the business,” said Bernstein, following word of the BMW executive’s death. “He knew how to take chances in a very calculated way.”
Mini’s launch proved to be the stuff of legend. Though the company spent virtually nothing on traditional advertising – relying instead on what would later become known as viral and event marketing – the British brand’s products quickly sold out.
“Sad news,” texted Kerri Martin, a former Mini marketing executive, who worked closely with Pitney on the Mini launch.
“He once gave me a picture of Orville Wright in his first flight, with the quote, ‘Orville Wright did not have his pilot’s license.’ And that has inspired me ever since,” added Martin, now an account supervisor with BBD&O, in San Francisco.
After wrapping up his assignment with Mini, in 2005, Pitney was given the plumb job of marketing chief for BMW North America. Yet despite BMW’s strong position in the U.S. market, Pitney refused to coast. He experimented with alternative marketing strategies and explored new media.
He also ruffled feathers – most recently by launching the controversial “Joy” campaign, which many BMW loyalists felt diminished the brand’s long-running marketing tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
In an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com, earlier this year, Pitney defended the strategy, and noted BMW wasn’t walking away from the more familiar marketing message but simply aimed to “broaden its appeal.”
Critics saw vindication when BMW announced Pitney was to be reassigned to a regional job, an unusual move for someone in a senior corporate position. But the executive appeared excited about the move, and Bernstein echoes comments made by company insiders who felt the new job was actually designed to round out Pitney’s corporate experience.
“He needed to have field experience and may next have gone to finance,” suggests Bernstein, who believes that Pitney was being groomed for an eventually post as BMWNA’s CEO.
But his career was cut short by an accident during a vacation at the farm he owned not far from his home in the New York suburbs. Details of the accident that led to Pitney’s death were first reported by the Daily Freeman, of Kingston, NY. BMW is expected to provide additional information later today.
Pitney is survived by his second wife, Quincy, and the five children they brought into the marriage.