By Mark Louis F. Ferrolino, Special Features Writer
Being successful in a traditionally male-dominated industry can’t be determined by gender; it comes down to personality and abilities. This was proven by Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Asia Resources Incorporated (HARI), the Philippine arm of Korean car maker Hyundai.
With strength, determination and confidence, HARI was established in 2001 to market the Korean brand in a country dominated by Japanese and American brands.
Ms. Agudo knew nothing about the automotive industry. She is an accounting graduate of St. Scholastica’s College Manila. She built a career in real estate in the first 25 years of her professional life, doing rounds in sales, training and property management.
“When the opportunity to lead the Hyundai distributorship in the Philippines was offered to me, for the first time in my career, I felt fear. Fear that I was going to jeopardize a career that I had built for over two decades. I knew nothing about the automotive industry,” Ms. Agudo shared in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.
At that time, she turned to her father for advice. The latter asked her if she wanted to be a tiger in a small forest or a small fish in a big pond. “Right then, I knew what he wanted me to do. I set aside my fears and took the challenge,” Ms. Agudo said.
Things never came easy. Even the officers of Hyundai gave her a cold treatment during their first encounter. She received a sexist remark: “You are a woman. What do you know about cars?” She calmly replied and asked them in return: “You are Korean. What do you know about the Philippine market?” That closed their deal.
Ms. Agudo and her team worked persistently to submit all the requirements needed to prove that the Philippine market was ready for Hyundai. Looking back at the time it started, Hyundai and Ms. Agudo were so much alike: both new kids on the block but geared up for a fresh start and new challenges.
By setting new benchmarks in the industry, Hyundai obtained a significant spot in the Philippine market. From Starex alone, Hyundai now offers a complete line of passenger and commercial vehicles in the country. It has become one of the automotive giants in the local car industry today that continuously innovate and forge new ground, one milestone at a time.
“I am generally hands-on. I will not ask my staff to do something that I myself cannot do. I am in constant touch with my division heads and dealer principals to ensure that we are on track with our targets and strategic objectives for the next three years,” Ms. Agudo said.
“When the opportunity to lead the Hyundai distributorship in the Philippines was offered to me, for the first time in my career, I felt fear. Fear that I was going to jeopardize a career that I had built for over two decades. I knew nothing about the automotive industry… [But] I set aside my fears and took the challenge.”
The success of HARI earned Ms. Agudo several accolades. In 2011, Ernst & Young recognized her as Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines. She became one of the 2013 Women Icons of Entrepreneurship of Go Negosyo. And in 2014, she was among the business leaders honored at the first Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards (APEA) Philippines in the outstanding category.
Gender disparity, for Ms. Agudo, is not an issue — talent and potential are. She believes that the best and most effective way to empower people, both men and women, is by educating them. Investing in social initiatives related to education is an advocacy closest to her heart.
Behind all her corporate and social responsibilities, Ms. Agudo strikes a fine balance between her career and personal life.
“Now more than ever, I value the idea of a sound mind in a sound body in order to be at the top of my game,” Ms. Agudo said. “With our fast-paced lifestyles, we really need to take a break and recharge.”
She tries to eat healthy and makes time to attend private training sessions on piloxing, boxing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), cycling and Pound for two hours — at least four times a week — before going to work. She spends time with her nanay and siblings on weekends and makes sure to not miss special family occasions.
When asked about her plans for HARI this year, she answered: “My core is to make a difference in anything that I do: bringing new value to the market. Sixteen years into the business and celebrating 50 years of Hyundai innovation, we have maintained third in industry ranking, overall, and seek to drive new value into the Philippine auto industry by making cutting-edge automotive design and technology accessible to a greater number of people; and by expanding the scope and scale of Hyundai’s humanitarian vision of enhancing lives, building a better world for all,” Ms. Agudo said.