Following the star — from a vacation job to the management level

When I go for a walk with our dog I can let my thoughts drift and completely switch off my work mindset. For me that’s very important, because I’ve got a really demanding job as the head of sales at the Mercedes-Benz Bank. It’s often extremely fast-paced. That means I have to get outdoors once in a while, relax completely, and watch my dog frolic. The natural world is important, and I need it.

At home with the Fürstenberger family

We’re a threesome: my husband, my dog, and I. We all agree that the alarm clock rings much too early in the morning — around six o’clock on most days. Our day begins pretty much the way it does for everyone. Coffee is essential. I start the day by holding on to my coffee cup for a while as I glance at my tablet to see whether anything major has happened in the world or at the company. I don’t use paper documents any more. I try to consistently use digital data instead.

My husband is the complete opposite. He prefers to read the paper, and once in a while he likes to read an interesting article aloud to me, commenting on it as he goes. Malú mostly lies on my crossed feet under the table. She manages to be so deeply relaxed that her weight seems to triple.

Commuting time = working time

By the time I’m sitting in my car, I’ve switched over to my work mindset. At that point, my thoughts are already on my first appointments of the day. I often use my phone, and depending on the traffic conditions I’ve got lots of time for extended conversations. In addition, I think about the day or the week ahead of me. I have to coordinate sales in Germany and the other countries, because our work is strongly project-oriented. The world doesn’t stand still, so we have to think every day about how we can continue doing business in innovative ways tomorrow.

An enthusiastic car2go customer: Ilka Fürstenberger.

An enthusiastic car2go customer: Ilka Fürstenberger.

Just think of digitalization and the new mobility topics that require us to be inspiring and creative every day — and that brings us to my vision for mobility powered by Mercedes-Benz Bank. We want to make mobility available to our customers in a variety of ways. On the one hand, we offer our traditional leasing and financing business, and on the other we also provide mobility products that we invest in, such as car2go and mytaxi. Incidentally, I’m an enthusiastic car2go customer, especially in Madrid, where I used to live before coming back to Germany.

Growing up with the Mercedes star

Apropos the world: I’ve spent a lot of time in different countries in the course of my career. I was born in Sindelfingen, and of course Sindelfingen is always identified with the Mercedes-Benz star. If you’ve got one of the most important Mercedes-Benz car plants in front of your door, that influences not only the region but also you as an individual. I started working at Mercedes-Benz at the age of 16 as an office messenger girl, and I used my wages to buy my first stereo system.

I continued this connection while I was a student, working on the assembly line — on piecework — during my semester breaks, at the paint shop, in the assembly area, and in the company kitchen. That’s how I earned my spending money. Today I can proudly tell you that I’m a passionate Mercedes-Benz fan.

Around the world with Daimler

Even though I hadn’t planned it that way, when it was time to start a career I landed at Daimler. Like many other young people, I started at Daimler Financial Services as a trainee. Thanks to the company’s international projects, you can travel all over the world. In addition to the U.S. I also worked in Singapore. Incidentally, later on I spent just over two years there working on business development. It was an exciting and fascinating time.

I did a lot of traveling before returning to our European headquarters in Berlin. After that I worked in Austria, where I was responsible for the local financial services company. My next position was in Spain, and I enjoyed the time I spent there, in my private life as well as at work. When people ask me what aspects of Spain I’d like to carry over into Germany, I answer, “Caramba,” definitely the Spanish sense of serenity. By that I mean keeping a sense of self-irony, seeing things from a calm perspective, and not taking things too seriously, but working hard nonetheless. Spanish people do that very well!

Mobility is the future

Thanks to Daimler, I’ve done a lot of traveling in recent years, seen a lot, and gained valuable experience. Now I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead of me, which will be strongly oriented toward mobility. The theme of mobility was launched eight years ago by our CEO at DFS, Klaus Entenmann. At a relatively early stage he had the visionary idea that mobility is the future, and he set the following course for us: “We have to transform ourselves — otherwise we’ll be transformed.”

Because we, as a services provider, were already ideally positioned for this task, it was clear that we should establish an innovation unit at Daimler AG. This unit, in turn, launched car2go and other mobility services. After that, all we had to do was to make car2go part of DFS. I set up a small team and laid the foundation stone for this process.

When we look at where we stand today, our whole company can be very proud of itself. In the future we will try to stay on this “mobile road to success” — for example, with rental products such as Mercedes-Benz Rent and Mercedes me Flexperience.

On the agenda: Mutual respect and an open mind

On the agenda: Mutual respect and an open mind

It’s not always easy to prepare ourselves actively for the future, because this preparation means that we’re actively embracing change. But thanks to the great teams that I work with hand in hand every day in Stuttgart, we’re succeeding. In my work as a manager, my top priority is to inspire people and spark their enthusiasm. I want them to enjoy their work. Mutual respect and an open mind are essential. That’s how I define good leadership!

This article was posted first at Mercedes-Benz Bank Blog.

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Ilka Fürstenberger was born Sindelfingen near Stuttgart and had a variety of jobs at Daimler — including on the assembly line — as a student. Later on, she traveled all over the world as a trainee. Today she is the Head of Sales at Mercedes-Benz Bank. She loves Spain and her terrier Malú, who helps her stay physically fit.