Cherri Musser, 54
Group Vice President and Chief Information Officer, General Motors Acceptance Corp.
Education: B.A., mathematics, Mississippi State University; M.B.A., Southern Methodist University
What your college professors didn't teach you: "The importance of relationships. You have to have strong relationships with your boss, with your peers, with your subordinates, with your suppliers; just the whole area of working relationships and the importance in getting your job done could be stressed more."
First automotive job: Process information officer of business services at General Motors in 1996
- 1999-2003 Process information officer, supply chain, e-GM and OnStar, GM
- 1996-99 Process information officer, business services, GM
- 1994-96 Vice president, r&d, TI Software, Texas Instruments, Dallas
- 1973-94 Positions ranging from programmer to director of business systems, Texas Instruments
Most fun automotive job: "The order-to-delivery project that we worked on. It was a major initiative for GM with dedicated people looking at how we could improve our ability to deliver in a timely manner to our dealers and customers. That was 1999 to 2000. It was a tough problem, but it was a lot of fun, a lot of energy, and I think we did some good things from a business standpoint, too."
Biggest mistake and what you learned: "It would be working in a job too long, staying with a job that I wasn't having fun with, and I didn't really enjoy, staying with it because I still had things that I hadn't gotten done yet."
Proudest achievement: "I was named vice president of software research and development at Texas Instruments, and I was one of five women VPs at the time. That's a $13 billion high-tech company.
"My second one would be getting my M.B.A. while working full time."
Current challenge: "I have moved into financial services, and it's a new area for me, a new business to learn. Then we've got challenges with the credit rating. GM's credit rating ripples into GMAC, and we've got some major challenges on innovative ways of securing low-cost funding so that we can continue to fuel the business."
On being successful: "It's always results and making sure that when you commit to something, you deliver those results. The other is building a team of people who enjoy what they are doing, have fun with it and have energy around their ability to deliver."
What about the auto industry surprised you: "I came out of a high-tech industry and our product life cycles were very short - semiconductor - and so every three months you basically were displacing your products. So there's a much longer product life cycle in automotive.
"The other thing is the complexity of the product. The first assembly plant I visited, after going through that, I had a whole new appreciation for my vehicle. It is a complex process."
What women need to know for success in the auto industry: "You first have to learn the business inside and out. Even though you may be in a functional area, like I'm in IT, I have to know the business, what the key drivers are and what the key success factors are so that I make sure we're doing the right things to support the business. I think that's true in any function that you are in. I think you really have to understand the business first, and then you can apply your expertise around the function."
Job to which you aspire: "I've always wanted to run my own business, so that's something that's in the back of my mind. Now as I get older, I sort of have to question if that's feasible, but that would be something that would interest me."
What do you do to relax: "I read a lot, all sorts of books, whether they are business related or fun books to read. And then I spend a lot of time getting outdoors and walking. So I walk with my husband and my dog."