DETROIT -- Ralph Gilles, an automotive designer by training, never thought of himself as the executive type. That was before Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne added the title Dodge brand CEO to Gilles' design chief duties.
"I have a design background. I have no business being a CEO," Gilles said in a speech at the Automotive News World Congress.
He's more at home wearing jeans and walking around a design studio. But Gilles has embraced his new role -- in part, he said, as a response to the sense of mission Marchionne has brought to Chrysler that wasn't there under some of the previous owners.
Gilles is more comfortable with Marchionne's approach than he was with that of Cerberus Capital Management. "Private equity has its place, but it doesn't belong in the auto industry," he said.
Gilles is a convert to the matrix management style Marchionne brought to Chrysler.
Gilles and his fellow brand bosses all have two jobs: one brand-specific and one encompassing all the brands. So Gilles is CEO of Dodge and heads design for all brands; Olivier Francois is Chrysler CEO and heads marketing for all brands; Fred Diaz is CEO of Ram and heads sales for all brands; and Michael Manley is CEO of Jeep and heads all brands' international operations.
"We call it a Mexican standoff. We all hold hands. We can't screw each other," Gilles said.
Gilles has embraced his new job and his role as a senior manager. Asked if a designer could run a car company, Gilles replied: "Yes, as long as you are surrounded by the right people."
That new can-do attitude has permeated the company, he said. That's in sharp contrast to the gallows humor that had employees, during the company's darker days, speculating that Chrysler's headquarters building in Auburn Hills, Mich. would work well as a shopping mall.
Said Gilles: "You just can't tell us it can't be done anymore."