College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu has appointed former BMW executive Knudt Flor as the senior vice president for innovation and industry engagement and as distinguished professor of practice. 

“I am so pleased to have Knudt Flor join the College of Charleston leadership team in this very important role engaging strategic partners,” says Hsu. “Not only does Knudt bring with him his incredible leadership experience at one of the top companies in the world, he also has a unique understanding of global citizenship and the need for today’s students to be fluent in cultural diversity.”

knudt flor

Knudt Flor

In this new advisory role to the president, provost and chief advancement officer, which begins Feb. 1 as a one-year, temporary appointment, Flor will work to help position the College as a strong academic partner to businesses in the region and across the state. Hsu says the post fulfills two of the College’s cross-cutting themes of the strategic plan: innovation and strategic partnerships. 

Flor rose through the ranks at BMW over a 30-year career to become president and CEO of manufacturing based in Spartanburg, South Carolina, serving in that position from 2016 until his retirement last year. He has held a variety of posts with the automotive company in Germany, South Africa, China and the United States, ranging from working as a launch engineer for engine production to project manager for quality management system integration to director of international supply chain and overseas logistics.

In his role at the College, Flor will help guide faculty and staff as they continue to innovate curriculum and consider new academic programs that appeal to both employers and prospective students. He will also be hands-on in consulting on the College’s development of its engineering programs and in expanding internship opportunities for students both in the United States and abroad.

In his own career, he has found success in four very different places and four very distinct cultures: Germany, South Africa, China and the United States,” says Hsu. “I have joked with him that his fifth destination – higher education – will be very different and perhaps even more challenging! However, I know Knudt will be a great champion for our institution’s modern take on a liberal arts education.” 

The College Today caught up with Flor to find out more about his experience in industry and business and how he hopes to leverage that knowledge to help CofC create new opportunities for students interested in forging a career within that field.

How does your experience as a BMW engineer and executive complement your new role as senior vice president for innovation and industry engagement at the College of Charleston?

I have been in industry for more than 30 years, and I’ve seen and lived through the big transformation on the shop floor – from human as “operator” to human as “architect and enabler of equipment.” And, I learned, “Business is People.” I see the need to change and enhance the engineering functions to be ready for the future. The combination of liberal arts training and advanced engineering can help in shaping and developing the type of engineers we need now and tomorrow. In my experience, automation and lean production gave us a big jump in productivity, quality and competitiveness since 1990, and now digitalization and connectivity will have the same big impact – and it will be a radical change again. 

In short: I’ve lived through it. And the success factor is as always the same: People. The engineer of today is not only an expert in digitalization; in higher education we need to develop a student’s emotional intelligence in how to deal with other people and the cultural intelligence in how to open up to people and how to think differently. The liberal arts can really help to form global experts and managers.​

What excites you about working to help the College bridge the gap between the classroom and industry?

First, talent development is the key factor for our future. We need to bring back manufacturing to the U.S. on the highest and most competitive technology level, reduce import, increase export and deliver products for customers in all world markets. And the liberal arts should play a central role in that talent development. I believe liberal arts training, like we have here at the College of Charleston, can help jumpstart a career. 

Second, industry has to get involved much earlier in higher education and provide a clear vision and definition about what kind of skills and personalities are needed, and also provide financial support for students, faculty and equipment.

And students have to know what they are getting into – by having real-life experience in business, real-life projects and a clear vision of their career opportunities. When students graduate, they should not get into a trial-and-error phase of their lives about jobs and opportunities; they should be ready for the job. And for industry, new hires should be fully productive from the first day on the job and not in need of training and orientation for the next several years. 

What are some of the things you will focus on in the areas of innovation and industry engagement?

There are many areas that I think the College can assist industry in innovation: smart factory with digital twin planning in the virtual world, autonomous mobile robots, big data analytics for pattern recognition, machine learning, 3D printing, artificial intelligence for quality management, smart building, predictive maintenance, virtual reality training, augmented reality problem solving, carbon capture and, and, and (you get the idea) … but also cyber security risk management, supply chain management and intercultural leadership. By the way, I highly appreciate that it is mandatory in the College’s curriculum to learn and master a second language; this is essential to gain cultural intelligence.

How do you plan to support and advise the College’s burgeoning engineering programs? 

I need to get much more insight into the actual programs to answer this question. At this point, I am the learner. I want to support faculty in getting more insights into the fast-changing world of industry, and I think, together, we will sort through priorities, what is new and what can be left out. We cannot just add more; we have to adjust to future needs in technology and manage the change efficiently.

How essential are internships for students pursuing careers in industry and how can your experience and expertise help enhance those opportunities?

 Internships, co-ops and real projects are essential for both sides, students and industry. Nothing is more exciting and rewarding than real-life experience. In this case, industry has to step up. My experience and expertise can help develop new programs, partnerships with industry leaders and more offers to the student. Career and job opportunities highly depend on visibility and experience. Every student should have a chance to get “visible” in these high-impact learning opportunities and get real-life experience about the workplaces and challenges of the future.