Mamatha Chamarthi, 51
Chief Information Officer, North America and Asia Pacific, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: M.A., English, Osmania University; M.S., computer science and software engineering, Oakland University; MBA, Sri Venkateswara University, and Northwestern University
What drew you to the auto industry? Back in 1994, when I was in India, I opened up Fortune magazine. On the back cover, there was a picture of the Chrysler building being built. There were articles about this huge building coming up on I-75. I did not know what I-75 meant. I really did not know what Chrysler meant. But it was so fascinating to see and read about the auto industry in the ’90s. Then I came to California and my husband gets a job at Ford Motor Co., and then we moved to Michigan. The very first interview I did was with Chrysler Corp. as a software programmer. That’s when I would say my love affair started with the auto industry.
First automotive job: In 1996, at Chrysler Corp., I was a software programmer. I was a contractor, not an employee. In ’98, I became an employee, and I was also part of the merger of Daimler and Chrysler.
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Big break: There are so many big breaks in my career. I can’t pinpoint the one. Leaving India and coming to the U.S. I can’t imagine what my career would have been if I were in India, so that was a major pivotal point for both me and my husband. Being involved in the merger of Daimler and Chrysler. And later on, I became a program manager for the separation of Daimler and Chrysler, the financial services arm globally. That was a huge pivot. Going to Consumers Energy as a CIO was a huge pivot, and coming back to the auto industry with TRW that later on merged with [ZF Friedrichshafen]. Then coming back to the company that gave birth to my leadership in the auto industry to give back and transform Fiat Chrysler is such a satisfying pivot.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Throughout my career, I have turned around the conventional approach to technology, focusing on inspiring innovation, customer-centric business transformation and striving for greater productivity. As the automotive industry is disrupted by the convergence of autonomy, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility, it is critical for our company to stay competitive and seek to be among the disrupters. In my current role, I am redefining the role of technology with the key objectives of customer centricity, employee centricity and technology leadership to transition our company from a traditional full-line automaker to a customer-centric mobility company.
You’ve been in the industry 22 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? In the 1998-99 time frame, I worked on the information technology strategy with the then CIO of Chrysler, which later on became DaimlerChrysler. Technology and IT was viewed as such a back-office function. I think the biggest transformational change in the auto industry is how technology moves from back-office to front and center and differentiating part of the product. Because today, 40 percent of the customers walk away from a brand if they don’t have the right connected services experiences in the car. That to me is a huge change, in addition to autonomy, shared mobility and electrification. I think we have been always tinkering with electrification and fuel cell, but I think it’s really interesting that we are making such a huge commitment to the environment, huge commitment to zero accidents.
What work achievement are you most proud of? At [ZF], I was made chief digital officer. That was a role that I took that was unlike any other role. In every other role, there was some kind of precedent that was an established position of a chief information officer. I knew exactly the specification going in. Yes, of course, I always look at a transformational opportunity because that’s who I am. But I think when I took the role of chief digital officer, and our CEO, Dr. Stefan Sommer, announced it at the Consumer Electronics Show that we will have a digital officer, it was kind of mind-boggling. It was such a surreal moment for me because there was no playbook. There was nothing that was given to me saying, “These are the expectations.” It was now, “You’re the chief digital officer; go figure out what we want to do.”
What’s the best part of your day? I love all parts of my day. I love waking up in the morning and showing up at work and moving the needle by one more day at Fiat Chrysler. I love that part of what I’m doing. I love throughout my workday where I’m advising [and] mentoring women or other men to take technology careers within the auto industry, inspiring a younger generation. I love that part of my job. I love giving back to the community as part of our company. So I look forward to the entire day. I love my workouts in the evening. That’s just me time that I have. I love that part of my day, too. And then at the end of the day, I love relaxing with my family. I love cooking and making a nice meal and then sitting down with my boys and having a good conversation.
— Vince Bond Jr.