LONDON - Petra Kerp sips bubbly mineral water in a borrowed room in a busy London BMW dealership. She is friendly and warm as she tells how her career has bounced back and forth between finance and marketing. Now, as CEO of BMW's captive finance company in the UK, 'I market financial products.'
She designed her first new subsidiary in Canada, where she founded a captive finance company to handle leasing and sales paper for BMW's 6,000 sales a year in that country. Now she's building a company to handle financing for 60,000 BMWs and 200,000 Rovers annually.
Kerp took the job because of the challenge.
She had returned to Munich from Toronto last year to work at BMW headquarters designing a strategy for the international marketing of BMW's financial services. Three months later the UK job came up, and she took it.
'It was a chance to start a company from scratch, to grow it the right way. Usually, you take a new job and you inherit other ways of doing things.'
The Canada and UK jobs were similar except for scale, and the UK financial markets are more sophisticated than in North America, she said.
By the end of this year she will have 300 people on her team. When she started, there were 30. BMW recently announced it would take Rover fleet financing inhouse. The UK is the last major market where Rover and BMW cars have been financed by separate organizations.
Kerp's days are occupied by the demands of business, but her private life includes time to support the work of Amnesty International, and a church group in Munich that is trying to relieve the suffering in Romanian orphanages.
'When I was 18, I thought I was so lucky in life. I had to work to go to university, but I can express my opinion. Nobody would put me in prison because I believe in God or whatever. I feel I have a responsibility to work for others.'
As an active member of Amnesty International she traveled to Russia in Iron Curtain days. She helped free two political prisoners: a priest who conducted a mass, and a teacher who showed his students a copy of the German magazine Der Speigel.
Now she is actively trying to help the children Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu caused to be born and sent to orphanages to become part of a people's army.
'Taking children from their families is a great offense,' says Kerp. More than 100,000 are still in orphanages seven years after Ceausescu was overthrown. 'They were educated to see Ceausescu as their father. For me this goes against human rights.'
Concern for others runs in her family. Her mother is a dentist and her sister is a doctor.
Kerp divides her time between homes in Germany, where her husband lives, and Goring-on-Thames, UK, which she shares with her seven-year-old daughter.
She has a general motto: 'Live today. Don't worry about what happened yesterday, and don't worry too much about the future.'
And from time to time she displays other sayings on the blackboard in her office. They help her organize her thoughts.
Today, it is a quote from Albert Einstein: 'A vision is more important than knowledge.'