Sandra van Tongern

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Name: Sandra van Tongern
Title: Product communications manager
Company: Ford of Europe
Location: Cologne, Germany
Age: 32
Family: Husband, Arne
Born: Osnabrueck, Germa
Nationality: German
Languages: German, English, basic Spanish and French
Education: Degree in business administration, University of Paderborn, Germany; studied business/marketing at the University of Seville, Spain


What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?

After internships at Karmann and Volkswagen Australia, I started my first professional job at the internal consultancy of the Volkswagen Group in Wolfsburg. I was impressed by the diversity and the international aspect of this industry. Plus the complexity of the product fascinated me. Almost everyone has an emotional opinion about cars, and this sparked my passion for the industry.

Greatest achievement?

Leading the European reveal and pre-launch of the new Ford Mustang, where our emphasis was on digital-first communication. Coverage was enormous and widespread, from automotive publications to lifestyle media with a huge presence in social media. This was a big step in shifting people’s perception of the Ford brand in Europe.

Biggest failure and what it taught you?

When I started my career, I thought that I could develop a concept or strategy based on the theoretical knowledge I gained at university. But implementation sometimes failed because I was missing important input and commitment from experienced people who had worked in the area for many years. I learned how important it is to involve and convince the right people from the beginning of a project.

What is your current challenge at work?

There are many significant challenges to our way of communicating: working in a global environment with different cultures and time zones; critical monitoring of the company’s performance by media and analysts in a weakening European economy; consumers’ unlimited access to and constant desire for information in a rapidly diversifying communications world. We have to adapt very quickly to a fast changing media landscape with a strong focus on digital channels.

What about the auto industry surprises you?

The power of innovation – the industry is continuously evolving and reinventing itself. It’s incredible how quickly we adapt to environmental concerns and legal requirements. This is moving mobility on an exciting new path.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Discover your personal strengths and how to apply them to your field, in other words, play to your strengths. This also applies to the team. Find out what your team members’ strengths are and empower the right people with the right tasks. This makes your job much easier.

What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?

If you have a passion for cars and a desire to work in a global environment – do it. The auto industry offers such diverse job opportunities and innovative power that it never gets boring. There’s always the possibility to evolve in a new area.

If you were CEO of a company what would you do first?

Listen, provide direction and communicate. Find out the strengths and weaknesses of the company by getting the views of people at all levels. Then create a vision and strategy that is simple and transparent so that everyone can identify with it. Empower the team to cascade the strategic goals down so that employees understand how their individual work contributes to the company’s success.

What job do you really want to have in the future?

AnswerThat’s difficult to say. I’ve had jobs in very different areas and enjoy my current role very much. I would love to have a senior PR role, leading an international communications team.

What do you do to relax?

AnswExercise and sports are great passions. I play basketball twice a week on a local

First car?

A turquoise 1996 Peugeot 106 that I shared with my boyfriend. I remember taking a lot of exciting trips with it when I was at university.

Current car?

Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost, which is ideal for the city.

Career highlights

2012-present: Product communications manager, Ford of Europe, Cologne, Germany

2009-2012: Product planning analyst, Ford of Europe, Cologne

2006-2008: Strategy consultant marketing & sales, Volkswagen Consulting, Wolfsburg, Germany

2006: Post-graduate marketing intern, VW Group Australia, Sydney

2004: Marketing intern, Wilhelm Karmann, Osnabrueck, Germany

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