Adi Ofek, managing director of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Korea, had no hesitations on joining the Korean team in January. Among several options given to the then-chief risk officer of Daimler in Africa and the Asia-Pacific, Korea was almost her own choice, she recalled.
“It was because of the people. I felt very much at home whenever I visited Korea on business trips,” the Israeli CEO said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday.
“Koreans are hard-working people. They always try to find a solution passionately. That’s the point where I feel connection between Korea and Israel.”
After completing her military duty in her home country, Ofek joined Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, in 2000. She served several jobs at the German auto giant, including leading the risk operation division in Africa and the Asia-Pacific since 2007 as the first female executive in the region.
For the 42-year-old finance veteran, leading the Korean team is a challenging but exciting new mission.
Adi Ofek, managing director of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Korea, poses at her office in Seoul, Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
The captive finance companies of foreign carmakers, especially those of top-selling German luxury brands, are expanding their presence in Korea where import car sales have surged in recent years. And of them, Mercedes-Benz is one of the top players.
Last year, the German carmaker sold a record 24,780 vehicles, up 21.54 percent from a year ago. During the same period, the financial service company’s net profit soared 21.85 percent to 18.4 billion won ($18 million).
Currently, financial service customers, who are considered more loyal, make up almost 40 percent of Benz owners here, like in other mature markets such as the United States and Singapore.
Daimler Group chairman Dieter Zetsche had pledged during his visit in November to pour resources into Korea to double car sales to some 40,000 vehicles by 2020.
Reflecting their operation linkages and shared branding, the finance company is also expected to continue to post its strong growth in the coming years.
Amid some criticism about Mercedes’ high-priced financial products, Ofek made it clear that pricing cannot fully explain the company’s premium package programs combined with maintenance services and other special features.
“We see customers as partners for life,” she said. “We offer them the best deals to lower their initial burden, then help them upgrade to a new vehicle years later. It’s a lifetime service.”
But she is well aware of the value of saying no to customers in the credit business. Now there are a slew of sexy cars and attractive loan programs luring potential buyers in the market. But some motorists fail to pay the money back, becoming so-called “car poor.”
“It’s not easy to say no to customers. But affordability is the key thing to us,” said Ofek, adding that the company’s debt analysts offer thorough consultations under Daimler’s strict global standards. She stressed: “Our business is not just about today.”
In order to win over more customers, her Korean team is working on a variety of new products and services exclusively for the Korean market.
Among others, the company plans to introduce more tech-savvy programs, such as a mobile app for calculating car prices, to appeal to younger generations.
Asked if her time in the military has affected her social career or management style, she responded with a smile.
“I joined the army after high school at 18. I learned a lot of skills on how to be efficient and collaborate. But it was to early to nurture business,” she said.
“I would say my leadership has been cultivated, inspired mainly in Daimler.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com)