Sonia Rief, 42
Vice president of program management office and vehicle connected services, Nissan Group
Big break: Becoming regional chief vehicle engineer for the Nissan Rogue, where she was responsible for development of Nissan’s top-selling U.S. vehicle
Sonia Rief loves data.
“Data tells a story in a way that is unemotional,” the 42-year-old Nissan executive said.
And it’s a good thing she likes spreadsheets because she spends a lot of time poring over sales and marketing data.
As a vice president in Nissan Group’s project management office, Rief helps decide which sedans and crossovers deserve Nissan’s investment.
“Anything that touches those vehicles, from early development through the day-to-day incentives and marketing,” Rief said.
But Rief’s passion for racing — not data — steered her into the auto industry.
“I got involved in Legends racing in college at North Carolina State,” she said. “Outside of school, I started autocrossing and started to really find a passion for that.”
After college, Rief joined General Motors as a durability engineer at the company’s Proving Ground in Michigan in 1999.
“The job there was a mix of hands-on and theoretical,” Rief said. “I was all over that.”
A couple of years and an MBA later, Rief “stumbled upon” an r&d role at Nissan. Over the past two decades, Rief has had various r&d posts in the U.S. and Japan.
“The responsibility I had at GM was deep, but narrow,” she said. “At Nissan we are very lean and we get to touch everything. There’s a lot of personal responsibility.”
Rief, who was named one of Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry in 2015, said one of her proudest accomplishments was helping launch the current generation of the Rogue crossover, the Japanese brand’s top-selling vehicle in the U.S.
“We did some amazing quality improvements,” said Rief, a former regional chief vehicle engineer for Rogue. “At the same time, the segment exploded.”
Last year, the mother of two made a big career move, switching from r&d to marketing and sales. It was a steep learning curve.
“The marketing and sales side, which is a huge portion of what I’m involved with now, was really very much unknown to me,” Rief said. “For at least the first six months, it was kind of a constant state of tension. Everything took me longer as I had to learn” while also making decisions.
When not poring over sales and pricing spreadsheets, the outdoorsy Rief unwinds with family and at the gym.
“I love to CrossFit,” Rief said. “I love that it’s intense and it’s high variety.”
— Urvaksh Karkaria