How one woman now spends billions after turning c into her job

How one woman now spends billions after turning c into her job

Birgit Behrendt always likes to go shopping, dpa reported.

"Preferably, designer shoes for myself," she says with a laugh. "I'm really fulfilling a cliche."

That's because Behrendt, 50, to a certain extent has made her hobby into a profession. Based in Cologne, she is the head of purchasing for Ford Motor Company in Europe. With an annual budget of more than 20 billion dollars Behrendt buys everything the company needs to build its cars - from side mirrors to mudguards. She is the only woman in Europe with a seat on the board of directors of an carmaker.

Ask what a typical day on the job is like for her and the answer that occurs to her is a single word: "Hectic." She is usually in the office at 7 am and one appointment follows another. She talks with members of her staff, holds video conferences with colleagues in Asia or the United States and meets with suppliers. She almost never goes home before 8 pm.

"You have to have conviction in this job, otherwise you'll get a stomach ulcer," said Behrendt. "To me this job is fun."

Ford of Europe produced 1.8 million vehicles last year. Parts from outside suppliers account for about two-thirds of the total cost of the parts that go into each car. Behrendt negotiates the terms of contracts with about 750 suppliers worldwide.

"The fascinating thing is I can really make things move," said the bespectacled woman with a blonde pageboy haircut. "I have influence not only on the costs, but also on the quality."

Her job takes place in front of a backdrop of an industry currently under extreme competitive pressures, which "challenges me to my peak performance," she said. It was a coincidence that started her career at an automaker.

"As a native of Cologne it was obvious that I would apply at Ford after completing my studies," she said. In 1978 she began training to be a saleswoman there and later took night courses in business management, urged on by her first boss who recognized her talent. She continued gradually working her way up the ranks, always seeking new challenges. Today as a member of the board she is responsible for the global vehicle programme.

Behrendt said a woman as a top boss in a men's domain is a position that is not as difficult to reach at an American corporation as at a German one.

"That's actually odd because in buying a car women make 70 to 80 per cent of the purchasing decisions," Behrendt said. About one-third of her 600 employees are women.

After the longs hours in the office Behrendt has little time for her private life. Her husband takes care of the house. The couple have no children. When she gets time for it, she reads or goes jogging. She also loves being on water and she and her husband owned a boat when they lived in Detroit where she worked at Ford headquarters for six years. They often took vacations on the Great Lakes. She still makes frequent business trips to the US.

She said compared with Germans, Americans have a positive attitude toward many things. "For Germans the glass is always half empty, for the Americans, it's half full." Nevertheless, "I like it in the US and in Cologne. Between the two worlds suits me just fine."

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