“It’s very well-structured,” says Christopher Hahn about his native Germany. “It’s organized. If someone says the bus will arrive at 11:58, it will.” When asked about Brazil, his response is much different, filled with praises of the culture, food, and weather.
Although Hahn is talking about two different countries in which he’s resided in, he may as well be talking about himself. That’s not to say there’s a microscopic city bus making its rounds inside his chest. But he does embody the same kind of contrast he uses when discussing Germany and Brazil. On one hand, he has a passion for finance and marketing that developed as a child and carried him through earning his MBA from Business School Lausanne in Switzerland. On the other hand, he’s carved out a career in real estate and facility management—something he never could have predicted while he was in graduate school.
Today, as director of real estate and facility services for Volkswagen Group of America, Hahn is constantly getting his hands dirty and overseeing everything from broker service to project management. While Volkswagen has JLL as a service provider to support Hahn, he’s the only point of contact for others during a project, which makes him more or less a one-man operation. As happy as he is in his role, it’s not the one he imagined when entering the professional world. It’s not even the one he imagined when he first started at Volkswagen. Then again, Hahn’s career path has been anything but conventional.
His first job brought him to São Paulo in 1994, where he was hired in the finance program at Autolatina, the South American joint venture between VW subsidiary Volkswagen do Brasil and Ford subsidiary Ford do Brasil. Working in the finance program was a seemingly natural fit, given that Hahn had just earned his MBA. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t last.
“I entered the company in July, and soon after, the JV decided to split,” he laughs. “I felt a strong loyalty to Volkswagen. A good crew stayed there, and I was with the division team.”
After moving to a different department as a product and investment controller, Hahn wound up being in Brazil for a total of 10 years before being offered a job as regional director of Volkswagen in his homeland. As with Autolatina, his new role was short-lived. Still, he found a way to make it work.
“I managed a location that would soon be eliminated,” he recalls. “The company decided to close it down due to a lack of synergy. But I managed to find three other activities, which, in the end, allowed all of the jobs to continue. For more than 200 people, life could continue. I ran the division for three years and met my next boss, who got the assignment to head Volkswagen Group of America.”
This brought Hahn and his family to the United States in 2007, where he would receive his first real taste of facilities management. While there were and still are many different projects to focus on, the major one was moving the company’s headquarters from Auburn Hills, Michigan, to Herndon, Virginia.
“My only facility experience at that point was taking care of the facility in Germany—redoing bathrooms and painting some walls and some offices, but never a major project,” Hahn recalls. “I built the HQ out with a VOA architect and RAND Construction for the new headquarters. The first floor has showrooms for VW and Audi, a cafeteria, and gym, and then the offices would be on floors two through six. One of the challenging things was putting in an atrium and staircase.”
As eager as Hahn was to tackle the work, he was skeptical about hitting the April 2008 deadline, especially because this was still such a new world for him. After all, he had only come on board in November 2007, so he was excited when construction was completed by April 15. “We celebrated the finalization appropriately,” he laughs.
At that point, it became clear that he was just as adept with real estate and facility management as he was with finances and marketing. An opportunity presented itself when the person in charge of real estate at Volkswagen Group of America decided to retire.
“He asked, ‘Do you want to take the job?’” Hahn recalls. “So I thought, ‘How much real estate is there?’ So they showed me the portfolio, and I said, ‘Well, that’s really a lot of real estate. Why not move into real estate?’”
While it was somewhat of a drastic career shift, he insists that there are similarities between his past and present roles at Volkswagen.
“What Volkswagen probably realized is that you have to be able to not only see the big picture, but also put all these different puzzle pieces together and move the whole thing forward,” he says. “And that’s one of my characteristics. I had already been in contact with different departments, different projects, different people. Dealing in more challenging activities was not something new to me. If you think about the budgeting, you need a lot of financial background. Project management needs a lot of control and organizing teams.”
Such versatility was likely instilled in Hahn from the day he was born. “My mother is from San Francisco, my father is Austrian, and I was born in Germany,” he says. “Every one of my siblings is married to someone of a foreign nationality.” That goes for Hahn as well, whose wife is Brazilian-American. “In my family, it’s normal to be outside your borders.” With that in mind, perhaps it was destiny that he would be so adaptive in his mentality and talents; that his path would involve so many countries and job titles—albeit mostly within the same company.
To this day at Volkswagen, he’s excited about two projects in particular. The first is Group Academy, a 67,000-square-foot facility in Eastvale, California, that will serve as a training facility for both salespeople and mechanics at Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche. Housed in the Goodman Commerce Center and slated to open in 2017, the U-shaped building will be divided up
“In the center will be offices, conferences, cafés, and we’ll have a collision center, which we didn’t have until now on the West Coast,” Hahn explains. “We can train people on everything from welding to sales training. Instead of training sales people at a hotel, we will bring them here to enhance their experience.”
The second project is Volkswagen’s first Future Center in America. With one facility in Potsdam, Germany, and a second in Beijing, the third is being constructed in Belmont, California, as a haven for new automotive technology. Among the products being designed and tested by Volkswagen’s Group of America’s engineers and developers are next-generation dashboards, automated driving technologies, futuristic navigation systems and, as a final product, a better customer experience.
Despite a lifetime of traveling, Hahn likely won’t be moving to another country anytime soon—for reasons that are personal as much as professional.
“As a kid, I always went to San Francisco to visit my grandparents,” he says. “I’ve always had a connection to the US. Now, my oldest child is a senior going to college and my second is two years behind. Living on my third continent, unless going somewhere else was a fantastic improvement, I am pretty satisfied with where I am.”
Stantec’s relationship with Volkswagen Group of America extends well over a decade. It was a great honor to design the Volkswagen US headquarters working alongside Christopher Hahn and the rest of the Volkswagen team. To learn more about Stantec’s award-winning design work, please visit www.stantec.com/architecture.