PARIS - Upon learning she has been named the 1999 Woman of the Year, Magda Salarich of Citroen asks: 'Why is there a need for such an award?'
Salarich, 43, is a no-nonsense businesswoman. She feels there is nothing special about her success in the male-dominated automotive industry. She believes she owes her status to hard work and a relentless focus on financial results.
Under Salarich's guidance, Citroen has retained its momentum as the second-biggest selling nameplate in Spain with about 185,000 vehicles in 1998, or 11.5 percent of the market. Citroen expected to reach a sales record in 1999 of more than 200,000 vehicles, Salarich says. Only Renault sells more vehicles in Spain.
Salarich believes Citroen can do even better there. But Spain is not her only responsibility. Salarich also has two other jobs at Citroen: European sales director and director of European advertising. In that capacity she manages Citroen's relationship with Euro RSCG, Citroen's advertising agency.
Doing several jobs at once is nothing new to Salarich. She has been doing the same for several years. With her different roles, she divides her time between Citroen headquarters in the leafy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and Madrid. She stays in Paris Monday through Thursday. On Friday she goes home to Madrid, where her husband and children live.
'All my career there were a lot of different currents,' she says. 'My second home is the plane flight. I am very happy at the airport.'
It is impossible to come away from a conversation with Salarich without thinking Citroen is one of Europe's hottest nameplates on the verge of a major breakthrough. She fervently believes in the brand.
'My biggest job is to launch the Picasso (Citroen's entry in the compact minivan segment),' she says. 'I know we can increase the success of Xsara. I think we can increase sales of Xsara estate next year. I love Berlingo.'
The way Citroen is structured, Salarich is responsible for Citroen sales in all European countries except France. That includes Citroen's top five markets: Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Those other countries are where Citroen faces the biggest challenge. Citroen, a volume manufacturer, has seen its market share in Europe as a whole slip to near 4 percent. That is roughly the same as Mercedes-Benz, a luxury brand. Citroen clearly needs to duplicate the Spanish formula in other countries.
In all-important Germany, Citroen sales have grown 10 percent this year in a market that is up only 2 percent overall.
Salarich believes Citroen has a window of opportunity to sell the Picasso, which was launched Jan. 3. Rivals such as the Renault Scenic, Fiat Multipla and GM Zafira are already on the scene. But other competitors, notably Ford and Volkswagen, will not bring out their entrants until roughly 2001.
OVERSEES 15 COUNTRIES
She is a student of the differences between markets and takes pride in being aware of the needs of each of the 15 countries for which she is responsible.
There is nothing she loves more than a good healthy battle for market share.
'I love competition,' she says, and repeats it again for emphasis. 'I looove competition. Competition is always a very good thing. That is one of best things our industry can have.'
Salarich comes by her loyalty to Citroen naturally. She has never worked for another company since graduating from university in the late 1970s. She was educated as an engineer - the only woman in her class.
Asked whether she has ever faced any career barriers because of her sex, Salarich replies firmly: 'Never. Results have no sex. Finally, everybody is a professional.'
Salarich won't talk about her career goals.
'I have never been ambitious. I don't think to be ambitious is the way to be successful. I think if you are focused on results, the career will follow. To be ambitious for something besides results is not a good process.'