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I will need your indulgence here, so please bear with me--this is a rather personal and emotional column. Last week, at the launch of the second-generation BMW X3 in Makati, Asian Carmakers Corporation president Bobby Rosales pulled me aside and whispered in my ear a mind-blowing (to me at least) piece of information. (ACC is the exclusive distributor of BMW in the Philippines.)

I was so excited I asked Mr. Rosales if I could write about the news already. "Not yet," he said. "But I promise you that I will give you the green light ahead of everyone else as soon as I get the clearance."

Well, this morning my phone rang and I saw the name of Mr. Rosales. Ah, I thought, today is the day I'm being allowed to break the news. "As I promised you, you'd be the first to know when everything is final," he said, a feeling of elation palpable in his voice. "We are going to announce this at a media conference on Monday, but you can go ahead and write about it."

The news? Mr. Rosales is stepping down as president of ACC, and current marketing director Maricar Cristobal-Parco has been appointed to take his place. The passing of the baton is effective immediately. Now, if you don't know Maricar personally, I'd understand if you're unable to grasp the enormity of this news. But allow me to explain why this is such a bombshell for me.

First, the development comes on the heels of another important management appointment over at Columbian Autocar Corporation, the authorized distributor of Kia in the country. ACC and CAC are sister companies, both owned by Pepito Alvarez. On January 19, this website announced that a female executive from Ford Group Philippines was to take over the position of outgoing CAC president Felix Mabilog Jr. That executive--who requested anonymity at the time--is Ginia Domingo, who officially started work at CAC just yesterday. Ginia and Maricar used to work together at Ford, where they became very tight.

And so Maricar's appointment as ACC chief now gives Mr. Alvarez two lady presidents looking after two very promising automotive brands. I don't know if Hyundai's phenomenal success in our market has something to do with this; Hyundai Asia Resources also has a lady boss. Needless to say, the previously male-oriented car industry is going through a major upheaval on the leadership front.

Second--and this is really my motivation for writing this column--Maricar is a dear, dear friend to me. She's like a sister, actually, and I am a godfather to her second son, Alfonso. You see, Maricar was one of my very first friends in the industry after I started covering the motoring beat in 1995. Back then, she was a fast-rising member of Honda Cars Philippines' marketing team. A mass communication graduate of UP Diliman, Maricar endeared herself to Honda's top management by giving English lessons to Japanese executives.

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My very first foreign trip as a journalist was with Maricar, when she brought me to the Tokyo Motor Show in 1997. We were so much younger then, both unsure where our respective careers would lead us. We would have laughed our heads off if somebody told us she'd be the president of BMW in the Philippines and I'd be the editor of an international car magazine. Of course, I say that with obvious flatulence: My position now as Top Gear EIC will never measure up to Maricar's impressive climb up the industry ladder.

We were already very close when Maricar was pirated by Ford in 1998, the same year she and I got married. Okay, that didn't sound right. I meant that in 1998, Maricar tied the knot with her husband, and I did the same with my wife. In fact, the venue for our weddings' reception was one and the same, the Orchidarium in Manila, because we had been sharing notes. Maricar remains happily married to this day--something I've failed to do--and is still remarkably humble about her achievements even after all these years. I wouldn't have gotten wind of her appointment as ACC president had her boss not told me.

When Maricar was pregnant with her first son in 1999, we went to Australia and drove some Ford Explorers through the outback of Alice Springs. I drove so enthusiastically that she screamed from the back seat. I seriously worried she'd suffer a miscarriage.

I am also eternally grateful to Maricar for getting me a US visa and bringing me to Detroit in 2000 for Ford's deep-dive program. It meant a great deal to me because I was able to visit my parents, whom I hadn't seen in five years. I was surprised I was included in that trip. There were only five slots and I was merely a motoring reporter then for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The other four media guests were all motoring editors.

Speaking of which, I just checked my e-mail inbox and was amused to discover that I had kept the correspondence between me and Maricar regarding this Detroit trip. Dated August 23, 2000, the e-mail now gives me great pleasure in reminiscing about the good old days. I wrote Maricar: "I just want you to know that I appreciate the fact that you're considering me as a participant in your upcoming Detroit trip. However, I also feel that you should not be compelled to invite me just because we're very good friends. I believe our friendship shouldn't get in the way of work. Having said that, I just ask you to do whatever is most beneficial to your company, not to our personal relationship. I am fully aware of how difficult and expensive it is to send a single journalist to the US, and I want you to use your limited slots wisely. I wouldn't want to travel all the way to Detroit knowing that somebody more deserving got bumped off because of me. Don't think I will feel slighted should you decide to prioritize other media practitioners."

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Maricar's reply was short and simple: "Muntik akong maiyak, seriously. But you need not worry. I really think you deserve a slot in this trip. I have to admit that I'm most excited about inviting you. Syempre, effortless. I need not worry about pleasing you."

Looking back, this one succinct e-mail from Maricar was what gave me the impetus to soldier on as a motoring journalist, back when I was pitifully underpaid and back when I was a relative nobody in the industry. And here we both are now--still industry colleagues and personal friends, and still checking on each other from time to time.

From Ford, Maricar had a stint as marketing boss of Prestige Cars BMW and then as general manager of Summit Media's short-lived events-management division (yes, we were officemates for a time). But her biggest break came when BMW packed up its Philippine subsidiary office and appointed ACC to be its local distributor. ACC promptly hired Maricar to head its marketing department, which is probably the best business decision Bobby Rosales made as company president. She helped provide ACC with professionalism and prevented it from being a mom-and-pop operation.

I am genuinely proud to be able to put all of this in writing. Let me end this by congratulating, first, my kumare for coming a long, long way since the days when we were wide-eyed idealists, and, second, BMW customers for getting a trustworthy steward of the brand they so passionately love.

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Vernon B. Sarne
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