100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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Birgit BEHRENDT

Executive Director, Global Programs and the Americas Purchasing • Ford Motor Co. • Age 50
 
 
 
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Why did you want to work in the auto industry? It was a product of coincidence. I wish I could say I wanted to work in auto, but living in and being born in Cologne, Germany, you have two big employers: Ford, which has their European headquarters there, and another big company. That is what brought me to Ford. Certainly, thereafter I caught the bug.

First automotive job: It was in 1978. I hired into Ford as a commercial apprentice at Ford of Germany.

Proudest professional achievement: Being where I am today. There have been many moments where I was proud or enthused by what's happened. Certainly, the Automotive News Europe Woman of the Year award in 2008 was one of the highest moments. It was awarded to me because of the transformation Ford of Europe had made. But it was also for the transformation we had made in terms of supplier relationships. It showed that those relations can be addressed even in very challenging times.

Current challenge at work: I just assumed a new role as executive director of global programs and the Americas purchasing. Before this I was vice president of purchasing for Ford of Europe and executive director of global vehicle programs.

When you talk about challenges: First of all it's about confirming and strengthening our global organization by providing consistency with the key people in the organization. I had global vehicle programs before, and now I've added powertrains to it. I also shift being responsible for the European purchasing to being responsible to the Americas.

My challenge is making sure that we continue on our journey as One Ford to really strengthen our global organization and truly leveraging our global assets as a company.

On "all these women": During my first assignment in the United States, I was a director in purchasing. I had a meeting here with a German company and their German CEO on a quality issue.

Ford's supplier quality manager was female, and the engineer was female. He took me aside and said to me in German: "My goodness, I don't know what to say? All these women! What do I do?"

He was intimidated. I told him, "We'll just go through the issues."

But I also told him he should get used to more women in business leadership roles.

I come from a culture where it was even less likely to have females in leadership roles until very recently. That should become more normal for Europe and other regions because women should play an important role because we're selling to women. The leadership should be diverse and represent the group we're trying to build cars for.

What you do to relax: In the little time that I have, I read. I am a great fan of mystery and crime fiction. We have a boat here in Michigan, so I love being close to the water. I jog when I have spare time.

— Jamie LaReau

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