Francoise Colpron, 50
Group President, Valeo North America
Location: Troy, Mich.
Education: Human science diploma, College Edouard-Montpetit; civil law degree, University of Montreal
What drew you to the auto industry? I joined Valeo in 1998 in the legal department, so at first it was more the quality of the job more than the industry itself. But over the years, I rose in the company and moved to the U.S. in 2003. And then I was appointed to my current position in 2008. As you can imagine, both the industry and Valeo changed tremendously. We like to refer to ourselves as a tech company, certainly a leader in electrification and autonomous driving. For me, it’s very exciting to be part of the transformation and the future of mobility.
First automotive job: I had global responsibility for all the files for the thermal branch; I was responsible for all the legal files, from commercial, to terms and conditions, to litigation. That was in Paris in 1998.
Big break: For sure it was transitioning in 2008 from a legal role to my present one. It was an interesting challenge to go from legal to a general management position with consolidated P&L responsibility in a world of engineers in a downturn. I could not have done it without an outstanding team.
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What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? The crisis that we are living through now, COVID. I was appointed during the financial crisis, but even during the downturn we didn’t have to completely stop production. So, our first priority has been the health and safety of our team and their families, and, of course, the continuity of the business. I am convinced that we will all emerge from this much stronger, not just at Valeo, but as an industry.
You’ve been in the industry 22 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The most surprising thing is, around 2015, seeing how the West Coast tech world and the Rust Belt came together. The alliances. And how we can each learn from each other.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I am very proud of the team I have built and its diversity. Today, on my immediate team, we are 50 percent women and we have six different nationalities. I come from a very diverse background myself. I am half Canadian, half Peruvian and American by marriage and I have lived and worked across the world. I think all of those experiences have allowed me to really create and lead a diverse team and really pull on the strength of diversity, not just to check a box. It’s really because I am convinced that a difference of opinion can lead to more creativity and a better-performing team, and I am very proud of them.
What do you struggle with? In terms of work-life balance it is constant juggling. Now our daughter is older. But I think over the years, we found not so much work-life balance but work-life integration. The most difficult thing is to control your schedule. You need to learn to be very present and available to your family and your loved ones, otherwise you tend to be completely absorbed by your work.
Describe your leadership style. I have a very inclusive and open leadership style. I tend to trust and delegate until someone disappoints me, then I get involved. But my first reaction is I trust people. And really encourage a difference of opinion. I won’t take offense if someone disagrees with me. I think that’s how you learn from each other, and that leads to progress. I think if you ask my team, they will say I can be a little impatient, but I am working on that.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? It was amazing to see how the industry came together. I think people forgot about their differences, who was a customer, supplier or even a competitor. Under the leadership of OESA (the Original Equipment Suppliers Association), we all came together to improve the health and safety protocols and share best practices. I think sometimes a crisis can make you forget about the day-to-day roles and make you have a higher calling. The industry came together on this one.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? First of all, I commend Automotive News for an event like this. You really need to project yourself so other people can have role models. As an industry, we need to work with girls early on to encourage them to study STEM and to take more risks. Once they enter the industry, we need to encourage them to take risks and P&L positions. Also, networks are very important. In 2012, I launched Valeo Women Connected. It is a very active global network that organized events for men and women and I believe it is about gender diversity. It is about how to better work together, men and women. We could promote a more inclusive automotive industry, not just for women, but for all minorities.
— Richard Truett