I started with Ford of Germany straight out of school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do – you could say I was a late starter. I began as an apprentice and spent five years as an administrative assistant before joining the purchasing team.

I pursued an economics degree by taking classes at night.This was an invaluable experience, teaching me organization, discipline, focus and persistence. Over time, I advanced through the organization to become vice president of purchasing for Ford of Europe.

One of the biggest lessons I learned as a woman and as a professional is that you need to know what you want. Clarify where you want to get in your career, and what you want to achieve five years in the future, both professionally and personally. Identify how much you want to invest in your growth, the responsibility you want and where in the organization you want to be.

Next, say what you want, particularly to those who make decisions about your career. Don’t be bashful about your achievements. Too many women think if they work hard, others will notice and a promotion will follow. If you don’t speak for yourself, your contributions will be extremely welcomed – while others get the promotions.

Many women believe they have to fulfill 95 percent of a job description before they can apply, while men are convinced they “fit the bill” if they meet more than 50 percent. Don’t let your pursuit for perfection get in the way of great opportunities.

I know from my own experience that having mentors is of immense importance. They are promoters, advisers, and sounding boards. They can use their experience, and yours, to help you see things more clearly. I was lucky to have several valuable mentors. If your business doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, look to the leaders in your company that you admire and talk to them. Most leaders are willing to share their experience and knowledge.

My industry has been through challenging times, but my best advice is to always be true to yourself. I found that by being open, respectful and fair, I was able to deliver tough but necessary messages to turn things around. Most of all, I am convinced you can only be at your best if you are passionate about what you do, and if you – most of the time – enjoy the ride!