Judy Wheeler, 58
U.S. Division Vice President, Nissan Sales & Regional Operations, Nissan
Location: Franklin, Tenn.
Education: B.S., business, University of Wisconsin; MBA, St. Mary’s College
What drew you to the auto industry? I got into the auto industry because at the time, Chrysler came on campus to interview. It sparked my interest when I met with the recruiter. They were assuring that you would be well trained and that you would have a car and benefits and decent salary. More than anything, it was the idea of working for a big company that drew me in. The pace [of the industry] is constantly changing. I feel like I just keep moving around and doing different things. I wake up every morning, I know I’m going to get a new set of challenges, and we’re going to try to figure out the best solutions possible.
First automotive job: My first automotive job was in 1984. I was a service and parts district manager with Chrysler. I started out of their Midwest regional office. My first territory was the lovely state of South Dakota. Only was there for six months because, can I just say, a 21-year-old doesn’t really want to spend a whole lot of time in South Dakota. But I loved it. I did well because I only lasted there for six months and then got a promotion.
Big break: My big break was when [Chrysler] asked me to be the second in command in the Northeast region, and my entire family picked up and moved. We had two small children. My husband had to quit his job to do that. It was a huge leap of faith for him to go with me and know that we were going to follow my career.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Knowing when to say yes and when to say no. We’ve moved 14 times as a family, and we’ve lived all over the world. And most of the postings have been fabulous. But as I’ve gotten later into my career, I have now said no a couple of times. I was brought into the automotive industry and was told, “You don’t ever say no; you always say yes to everything.” And I did for probably 20 years. And it wasn’t until recently, where I needed to make some decisions on what was right for my family and where we were in our life, that made me go, “You know what, I might have to say no.” It’s not a good time for me, for instance, to move to Japan and be out of the country. So those are some of those tough decisions you need to make as you get further along in your career.
You’ve been in the industry 36 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? When electrification came in, I thought it was fascinating. And that was one of the things that drew me to Nissan at the time. I was like, this is going to change the dynamic in the auto industry. A change we’ve seen more recently is digitalization. Everything’s online, and it’s the speed to try to get all of our processes and our systems online so a customer can go from the very beginning of the process to taking delivery, never leaving their home.
What work achievement are you most proud of? Probably 15 years ago, I started a mentorship program when I was at, now FCA. Every location that I’ve moved to, I have re-kicked off that program. Probably a year ago, I tried to figure out how many people I’ve impacted, and I would say it’s well into the thousands. We kick off a program every year, and normally anywhere from 100 to 250 people will go through it. It just keeps expanding.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I can remember as a little girl, my parents would say to me, “You can do whatever you want to do when you grow up. Whatever you want to do, we’ll support.” We never talked about me working in the auto industry. I don’t think, for many people, that is on the radar. So one of the things that I think is important is for us to be involved in STEM and to encourage, especially young ladies, at an earlier age. We’ll bring them in when they’re in grade school and the early years of high school and encourage them to get involved. And just put the automotive industry on their radar.
How do you bring your best self to work? I have a good attitude, and this comes from my dad. I just kind of follow a routine. That routine helps me to always be in a good, positive mood. I work out first thing in the morning, I drink my protein shake, and then I have a cup of coffee. A routine is important, and it helps me always bring my best self.
Tell us about your family. I have two children. They are adults. My husband and I have been married 36 years.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I live on a golf course. I’m still not very good. But I’m getting better. It’s one of those games that you have to play to improve. My son is an excellent golfer. And so when he’s here, we golf a lot. And I’m getting better.
— Urvaksh Karkaria