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June 29, 2018

In Her Own Words: A One-On-One with Hyundai's Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo

In the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry, Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo has risen to become the president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (HARI). With Ms. Agudo at the helm, HARI has become one of the biggest and strongest carmakers locally. More recently, she was instrumental in HARI getting the official distributorship of Hyundai commercial vehicles, trucks, and buses in the country. This makes HARI the only distributor in Southeast Asia to combine both passenger car and CV operations under one distributor.

We sat down with one of the most powerful business women in the country to find out her what drives her in this age of women empowerment.

CarGuide.PH: Tell us a little bit about your own personal path of empowerment.

Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo: I am an accounting graduate of St. Scholastica’s College Manila. I built a career in real estate in the first 25 years of my professional life, making the rounds in sales, training, and property management.

When the opportunity to start a Hyundai distributorship in the Philippines was offered to me, for the first time in my career, I felt fear—the fear of jeopardizing a career that I had built for over two decades. I knew nothing about the automotive industry. I turned to my late father for advice. He was smart and street-smart; and he loved to teach me life lessons through riddles. He was already ill that time but he still managed to ask me this: Would you rather be a tiger in a small forest or a small fish in a big pond? Right then, I knew what he wanted me to do. I set aside my fears and took the challenge.

Starting up is always a challenge. Back in 2001, I was tasked to develop the Philippine market for Hyundai. Hyundai was an unknown brand then and the market was dominated by the American and Japanese giants. We signed up two months before the 9/11 attack. Everything was uncertain for business. People thought we were crazy. But, for the Koreans, it was business as usual. Our pioneer team worked hard to submit all the requirements needed to prove that the Philippine market was ready for Hyundai.

We are now on our 17th year of operations and, looking back at our beginnings in 2001, I see how Hyundai and I were so much alike: We were both new kids on the block. We were off for a fresh start and set for new challenges. No one else was like us in the market. We were going to set new benchmarks, which we did, with just one model—the Starex. HARI today has a complete line of passenger and commercial vehicles. And we are poised to start our own assembly plant, the very first one for Hyundai in the country.

CGPH: What are the qualities of an empowered woman? And how can women be empowered while maintaining their femininity? 

MFPA: Even to this day, being a woman remains a “disadvantage.” We continue to struggle against stereotypes: Who says that women can only do well in the “soft” professions like the home, secretarial jobs, or HR? Women can be our own worst enemies if we let fear, low self-esteem, and gender stereotypes prevent us from realizing our full potential. But we can choose to be like tea bags. The more you dip us into the boiling waters of challenge, the stronger we become!

I think policy makers in the private and public sectors should collaborate to continue to explore ways to further empower the Filipina by granting equal access to opportunities to education and skills training, financing, and, because we are in the Digital Age, connectivity.

The onset of the digital revolution and of e-commerce has blurred the gender divide. Online, it doesn’t matter whether you are doing business with a man or a woman. What matters is the quality and uniqueness of your product, speed and efficiency of delivery, and trustworthiness--all of which are gender-neutral qualities.

CGPH: The automotive industry is very male-dominated. Describe being a woman who is also a top executive in this industry. Are women now accepted as equals or are you still more of the exception than the norm? 

MFPA: Yes, the automotive industry generally remains male-dominated. Although I believe leadership is not a question of gender or title, I would be happy to see more of our talented women go up the ranks. I believe that leadership is a choice—those who stand out have CHOSEN to pursue their purpose in life and to make a difference in the lives of the people they touch. That is what I wish to instill in team HARI: to be a leader and influencer right where you are. And I have a good number of remarkable women who have made that choice.

This is the current gender profile of HARI:
  • The proportion of male to female employees: 60 percent male and 40 percent female.
  • Male to female supervisors: 57.5 percent male; 42.5 percent female
  • Male to female managers: 61 percent male; 39 percent female
  • Male to female executives: 65 percent male; 35 percent female
Gender to me is a non-issue. Talent and potential are. That is why I push the envelope when I see that this person can do more and be more. Team HARI at head office, the logistics center, the assembly plant, and our 42 dealerships—and still counting—all over the country are inspired to excel, not just for personal growth, not just for the business, but for the bigger picture: a more thriving automotive industry and a more competitive Philippines.

HARI’s success is largely due to diversity in our ranks. I could not have built HARI by myself. From the start, I relied on a solid team of experts in their specific fields—in sales, after-sales, marketing, customer relations, human resources, property management, and now, digital.

CGPH: In the automotive industry, what vehicles do you consider as women-centric? And what makes these vehicles women-centric? 

MFPA: I don’t think we should limit women to certain kinds of cars, most especially in our times where the gender divide is fast blurring. If you’re a great driver, then you can take on any car. Hyundai cars are not gender-specific. They are designed for individuals who are out to get more out of life. So, ladies, take your pick!

This is the second one-on-one we had with Ms. Agudo. Read our first one-on-one interview with her, here.


  1. You forget to ask the most important questions though, like

    "When will you stop selling cars with shit specs?"

    "How did you price the New Santa Fe at 2.3M, more expensive than any TOTL variants of the competitor SUV, and yet you had the balls to have it only in 2-wheel drive?"

    1. "As a mother, would you like to drive the base model Tucson, which retails for more than P1.1m, which you advertise for speed and has only ONE airbag, with your child as a passenger?"

      This is how you ask HARD but RELEVANT questions, CGPH.

  2. Bakit UNDERSPECED lahat ng models ninyo, especially the SAFETY FEATURES (no ABS, Driver Side Airbag only, etc, Holy Shit!!!), tapos ang mahal pa ng mga sasakyan niyo. I know you offer good vehicles but please make sure that your vehicles are priced FAIRLY AND RIGHT!!!!!!!!!

  3. So this is why HARI's offerings suck... They're more concerned with gender equality than selling safe cars.

  4. That explains why Hyundai Philippines sucks. You don't hire a female executive for a position that's most suitable for a seasoned male executive.

    1. Im not a sexist, this is just the reality of life. There are certain jobs suitable for a female or a male.

      In this case, she has partly failed in her job. Just look at Hyundai PH's product offerings, overpriced yet underspec'd.

    2. ^ A trashy person like you without logic can never understand my point.

    3. I have to admit the he (camry owner guy) is correct. You do not put a woman on that position, in this industry, because of "gender issues" that are mostly just mental illness. She said it herself, "I knew nothing about the automotive industry". This in not the industry she trained herself for.

      And for the one calling a person a sexist pig, is that how your father treated you? Then would be proud of her own pig/cow.

  5. Dapat nga kung female, concern nila ang safety features ng sasakyan, at value for money. Dapat nga nai-tanong ito sa interview.

    On a positive note, maganda na magkakaroon sila ng full assembly dito gaya ng Foton. Baka kung dito assembled, may control na sila sa safety features na ilalagay.

  6. It all depends on priorities some value safety above all else some power. That's what I like about hyundai they value power and don't sacrifice putting underpowered engines in our cars

  7. 1.) Can we stop making a big deal about gender? Fck all mysogynists and feminazis it's 2018. It's what you have in your skull, not what's between your legs.

    2.) Hyundai : other makers have both - safety and power. But if you have to choose only one, go for safety. It's a CSR thing. It kind of sends a message that you want your customers to be safe, even if they behave like idiots (with LTO's tests and enforcer's ignorance, I think there's no arguing that most are). It's the moral high ground. Unless of course you can be sure that only idiots go for your brand, and your lack of safety is a deliberate, calculated method of ridding the world of them by fatal "accidents"- then go, help cleanse the world of idiots.

    1. It's not really the lack of safety that bothers a lot people as a lone issue.. It's the lack of safety AND charging full price for an unsafe car.

      It's the combination of both which implies that they only care about the money and not safety.

      It is greed at its worst possible form.

      And here we are, it's CEO, nagging us about gender equality and gender empowerment. It's another tone deaf liberal who's mediocre at her job.

  8. I've worked in HARI before..less than 1 month palang, I resigned na. Sobrang kakaiba ng environment. Parang nakakasakal. Tapos napansin ko pa sobrang papansin and eccentric nga netong president nila esp sa media hahaha. Focus on better pricing Ma'am. Wag naman kayo magbulag-bulagan na under spec-ed and overpriced mga cars nyo.


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