What attracted you to the auto industry? When I was in high school, I watched Lee Iacocca on TV in the Chrysler commercials. I found him to be a really interesting, dynamic person. My dad worked for the industry ó he was a tool-and-die maker ó so I was connected to Detroit. I knew coming out of high school that Iíd want to be involved in the auto industry.
First automotive job: I came into Chrysler in 1985 at Warren Truck Assembly in the budget department. Here I was coming out of Wayne State. Iím in a suit and Iím sitting in the middle of a plant. I think I was the only one with a suit on. I was there for just a year before I took a leave of absence to go to Ann Arbor [and get my MBA]. Then I came back on a leadership program and rotated through the finance organization for about 10 years.
Big break: As I was rotating through the finance organization, there was an opportunity in this very, very small group called Mergers & Acquisitions. There were four people, and I did some research. They werenít very active, but it was a promotion, so I took it. Within a couple weeks, I was driving to work and I heard that Daimler and Chrysler were merging. Iím thinking, ďWhat the heck? I work in M&A and no one told me that?Ē Chrysler wasnít very active in the M&A world, but Daimler was quite active, and our group became responsible for all M&A activity in North and South America, not just for Chrysler, but for Mercedes, for the commercial vehicle business, for the financial services business. What really got us active in the M&A world was in about 2000. Chrysler was losing money so we started a process in business development of divesting noncore assets. We ended up, from probably 2000 to 2004, selling about $2 billion worth of assets. I got really close during that time with the Germans.
What is the major challenge youíve faced in your career? Some of the most challenging and greatest stuff weíve done in the last few years is the work weíve done to localize Jeep [production] in China and Brazil [and] trying to do it in Russia.
Every time youíre given an opportunity to take on more responsibility, it seems so glamorous and great, but itís just a piece of you thatís lost forever ó like youíve committed another piece of you. I have three kids, and itís hard; youíre constantly having to make choices and decisions and hoping that youíre doing the right thing. I have a great husband. I met him when I was 14. Weíve been together for my whole life, and he really, truly believes ó and I let him believe this ó that in terms of our family life he takes on 50 percent of the responsibility. But he doesnít.
I think women are always allocated a disproportional amount of that responsibility. Itís just something that you live with.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Thereís a complete misconception about the auto industry. To people who donít know it, it feels very blue collar, very manufacturing based. People think youíre working in a plant. They donít think about the opportunities that are here, from PR, communications, marketing, finance, IT, purchasing ó every facet of what you may be studying in school is available in a company like this. Part of it is just educating people, and part of it with women is helping them understand that women have come before you, and have had families and raised kids and done that all successfully within this culture, particularly the culture at Fiat Chrysler. When I was having kids, I took extended leaves of absences.
Tell us about your family. My husbandís name is David. My daughter, Abby, is 23. My son Jake is 21 and David is 15.
What do you do to relax? I watch reality TV, like the Kardashians. This is why it wonít be a good thing for me to retire, because Iím going to become a complete couch potato. When I go home, I like to just make my mind stop working. I like to garden. I like to vacuum.
If I had it to do all over again ... I wouldnít do anything different. I love this company. I love these friendships that I have here. I love the cafeteria. I feel like I have had a career where, when I want to step back because I have to focus on family stuff, Iíve been able to do that. When I want to lean in because I have capacity to do that, Iíve been able to do that.
By Larry P. Vellequette