Maria Fe Perez-Agudo A product of an all-girls Catholic school in Manila, believes in the capability of women to climb the corporate ladder even in industries known to be men’s turf. Her own ascent to the top position at the fastest-growing car distributor in the Philippines changed the face of the once male-dominated automotive industry. “I believe in the power of the feminine genius,” the amiable Agudo says, as she encourages women to explore more avenues. “Unleash and maximize that inner power. Choose to seek opportunities, add value, deliver results, and most importantly, love what you’re doing,” she says.

Agudo speaks from experience. Married and a mother of two, she is the president and chief executive of Hyundai Asia Resources Inc. , the official distributor of Hyundai cars in the Philippines. St. Scholastica’s alumnus She finished Bachelor of Science in Commerce, Major in Accounting under a full scholarship at St. Scholastica’s College, an all-girls school run by the Benedictine Sisters in Manila in 1983. Agudo also completed a Leadership Development Program at Wharton School of Business in University of Pennsylvania in 2003.

Agudo admits that as a young girl in the 1970s, she never thought she would find herself involved in the automotive industry, especially in the distribution in the Philippines of the now-considered world-leading Korean cars. A real estate professional for over 20 years, Perez-Agudo says a rare opportunity knocked on her door in 2001, requiring a total career shift. A career shift “I was already enjoying a career in the real estate industry when an opportunity arose. I was asked to spearhead the selling in the Philippines of this still-unknown Korean car brand,” she says.

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A decade ago, Hyundai was a Korean car brand looked down in the Philippines and other markets. Things changed, as Hyundai employed the best hands in engineering and the best brains in marketing. “Back in 2001, Hyundai was literally a dwarf to the Japanese and American motoring giants that dominated the industry at that time. Korean cars then were considered of poor quality and it was a huge challenge to change public perception on that,” she adds. Agudo took the challenge head-on. Under her leadership, Hari grew by leaps and bounds and is now considered the leading distributor of imported vehicles in the Philippines.

Now, she says Hyundai takes pride in integrity of design. “Hyundai vehicles are a total package in terms of power, beauty, fuel-efficiency, and eco-friendliness,” she says. Hyundai’s turnaround Hari has consistently placed among the top three car firms in terms of sales over the past two years. It distributes 13 models in three different segments. For her exemplary management of Hari in its 10 years as a corporation and for her role behind its success as a major player in the automotive industry, Agudo was named the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by advisory group Ernst & Young in 2011.

Agudo says Hari will not rest on  its achievements attained over the years, and will continue expanding its fleet of vehicles. After the launch of Eon and preview of Veloster during the International Motorshow in March, she says they will launch the all-new, upgraded Santa Fe later this year. Expanding dealerships Hari also aims to expand its number of dealerships in the country in a bid to meet the increasing demand of customers. Agudo says the plan is to add seven more dealerships, bringing to 45 its nationwide network this year.

Despite criticism Hyundai is undercutting competition; Agudo says the Korean car maker is in fact promoting healthy competition. “As the country’s third top-ranking brand in terms of local industry sales, Hari is engaged in friendly competition with the country’s leading Japanese brands,” she says. “Hari chooses to co-exist with and engage in healthy competition with them because healthy competition challenges everyone to outdo themselves in delivering the best possible products and services to the consumers. ” She says Hari aspires to be the Filipino’s most trusted lifetime partner in motoring and beyond. Hari wants Filipinos to experience Hyundai not just as a car but a space where customers experience life’s most brilliant moments,” she says. Importers group Aside from leading Hari, Agudo also serves as the president of the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors. Other members of Avid include The Covenant Car Co. , Motor Image Pilipinas, Cats Motors, PGA Cars, Scandinavian Motors and British United Automobiles. Avid saw its sales rise 4 percent to 24,880 units in 2011 and expects a double-digit growth this year, on improved supply condition and stable economy.

This would allow the group to increase their combined market share to 20 percent from 15 percent in 2011, cutting into the share of rival group Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. Agudo says the recent announcement of Ford Group Philippines to stop manufacturing operations in the country should serve as a challenge to both the government and the automotive industry to review current policies, strategies and directions. “This is an opportunity to seek the best program to advance the growth and development of the Philippine automotive industry, in the interest of boosting the country’s overall economy.

We are happy that Ford Philippines will continue to do business here as a distributor,” she says. Good corporate citizen Agudo says Hari nurtures a strong partnership with the government. “Hari takes pride in being a good corporate citizen, abiding by the government’s laws on engaging in private business in the Philippines,” she says. Through Hari Foundation Inc. , the company engages the government in its corporate social responsibility efforts at community building, economic development and environment protection. Through the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors, of which I am president, we bring together the best minds in government and private business to discover innovative ways to make Philippine businesses step up and be counted as a fierce new player in Asia-Pacific and the world, capable of offering our markets innovation, a wider range of choices in products and services, and friendlier prices to meet a broad range of needs and lifestyles,” she says. Agudo says she draws inspiration from Hyundai’s philosophy of shaping a happier, healthier and greener world. Hari has partnered with non-government organizations and government entities to make a reality its commitment to good corporate citizenship that is expressed through a triple bottomline approach—economic growth, community development, and environment protection,” she says. Vision for the future On her vision for the future, Agudo says: “Hari hopes to see a more vibrant and healthier environment of competition for all players in the automotive industry. As long as the playing field is equal for all, this would boil down to happier consumers and thriving, vibrant businesses. Agudo says women have as much capability to manage companies as men. Her advice to young girls still on the planning stage for their career is to pursue their dreams with passion. “Discover your passion and when you find it, look for ways to keep it alive, spread it and inspire others,” she says. “My benchmark for success at this point of my career is to be able to leave a legacy of values that Hari can keep passing on, intact and alive, to the next generation of leaders in the automotive industry. ”

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