|Britta Seeger, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Korea|
Britta Seeger officially stepped behind the wheel of Mercedes-Benz Korea as chief executive last week.
She will be the first foreign woman to head an import car firm.
That in itself was enough to make headlines in Korea, where automakers are still defined by masculinity.
A host of women recently rose to executive posts in the industry, but Seeger is a rarity in that she is both a woman and a non-Korean.
It would be an understatement to say she has a lot on her plate as such.
Unlike her predecessor, the late Thomas Urbach who had served in the Asian region ― he had been vice president of Mercedes-Benz Cars for Daimler South East Asia in Singapore ― Seeger lacks any real experience in Asia.
Since joining Daimler in 1992, the new CEO has worked solely in Germany. Her role at Mercedes-Benz Korea will be her first outside of Germany, not to mention in Asia.
But there’s no reason to cast doubt since the appointment appears to have been made for clear reasons: her decade of experience in services and parts at Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. Before that, Seeger had devoted eight years or so to customer relations management and training sales representatives.
Services and customer relations are areas that Korean clients, known to be picky and hard to please, believe that imported cars fall short of their local rivals.
“We try, but to our Korean customers, we may still come off as unbending to the local customs,” said one employee at a foreign carmaker who wished to remain anonymous.
Seeger is expected to take on the role of troubleshooter to build a more customer-friendly image for her company.
Mercedes-Benz’s plans to open up to a dozen new service centers reflect the direction in which the company is headed.
Seeger’s solid German roots, meanwhile, indicate that while she will seek new ways to woo Korean customers, she won’t be diverging too far from the traditional way of doing things.
Korea has lately become an undeniably important market for all imported brands, especially the high-end carmakers for which Koreans appear to have an insatiable appetite.
Foreign car sales now account for up to 20 percent of the market.
In contrast to the prosperity, Mercedes-Benz sales have slid from their peak in 2009, a bumper year when net profits spiked, more than tripling from the previous year.
But given that the company has declined to undergo a model change for about four years, the performance wasn’t too bad. Now with a new lineup ― the super-compact A-class ― poised for release this year, anticipation is rising.
In the meantime, all eyes in the Korean automobile industry will be on Seeger, who is expected to make her official debut at the Seoul Motor Show at the end of this month.
By Kim Ji-hyun (email@example.com)