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Why Europe is a proving ground for rising star executives

"It's the hottest fires that make the hardest steel."

That quote, from Chrysler's "Made in Detroit" commercial, certainly applies to automotive executives. Consider this year's list of Europe's Rising Stars -- executives who have a minimum of 10 years of work experience, multiple language skills and are 45 years old or younger -- as chosen by Automotive News Europe. They were honored this week at the Automotive News Europe Congress in Paris.

The European auto industry is slogging its way through a once-in-a-generation downturn. Sales have collapsed, forcing companies to make hard choices, which they had avoided for far too long, about closing plants and cutting both capacity and costs.

The executives who prove themselves in Europe's time of crisis will emerge as the leaders of a reborn, stronger European auto industry.

And likewise, many of today's top global leaders showed their mettle during previous difficult times in Europe.

Carlos Ghosn, now CEO of both Renault and Nissan, led turnarounds that pulled each of those companies back from the brink. Ford Motor Co. COO Mark Fields and CFO Bob Shanks were instrumental in saving a failing Mazda Motor Corp., then controlled by Ford. Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne rescued the Italian automaker before repeating his performance at the American one.

Having faced challenges of this magnitude early in their careers, this year's 18 Rising Stars are now well qualified to lead the industry through future bad times -- and good. These are people to watch.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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