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AskPatty's Jody DeVere Highlighted in Forbes Auto 'Most Influential Women in the Auto Industry'

Published Aug 29th 2008, 6:40pm by Jody DeVere in Pressroom Articles

read the complete article at ForbesAutos.com by ELIZABETH BLISH HUGHES

Adriane BrownOne of Adriane M. Brown's favorite childhood memories is sitting on her dad's lap to pilot the family's Ford Country Squire station wagon down the driveway at their home in Richmond, Va.

The only she liked as much was to listen to her next-door cousins and their equally Corvette-crazed friends start their cars. "I loved that, when the Corvettes were lined up in the driveway," she says. "I loved the sound of them starting up."

Brown says the cacophony of Corvettes she found so fascinating sparked an important realization early on: "The power of a car to take you where you wanted to go."

Brown, the president and chief executive officer of Honeywell Transportation Systems for three years, is among the relatively few women to rise so far in an industry still overwhelmingly dominated by men. The Torrance, Calif., company she heads — best known for its innovative work in developing and manufacturing turbochargers — has annual revenue of $5.1 billion.

Like other influential women on our list
, Brown attributes her success to a lifelong passion for cars.

"It's a tough nut for women to crack," says Lorraine Schultz, who, in 1995, founded the Women’s Automotive Association International in Birmingham, Mich., to recognize women in the industry and foster networking. Though their career prospects have improved since a decade ago, most women have reached only "certain heights," Schultz says. "Before, they were clerks and communication experts. Then they started to become VPs, and moved out of the marketing and communications box."

She says the rarefied upper echelons of the industry still lack women. "I'm really sorry to say it hasn't changed that much."

A member of the nominating committee for the Automotive Hall of Fame, Schultz says the organization has a difficult time finding women to receive awards or induction.

Nicole NasonNicole Nason, the outgoing administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says much the same thing. In four years of meetings with the top CEOs of the automotive industry, she often found herself asking, "Where are the women?"

"When you look around to see who are the top women in the industry, you really have a short list," she says.

Nason is on our roster of key influencers in the auto industry because she helmed the government agency whose automotive safety standards affect every occupant of every vehicle on American roads.

Others on our list, like Nancy Rae, executive vice president of human resources and communications at Chrysler LLC, have been at the forefront of monumental industry shifts in recent years. In Rae's case, it was Chrysler's 1998 merger with Daimler-Benz, after which she was named vice president of compensation and benefits for the Chrysler Group.

Another key player is Verena C. Kloos, who as president of BMW Group's DesignworksUSA, is one of the highest ranking female designers in the industry. She oversees a global consultancy that not only designs BMW vehicles such as the X5 crossover utility vehicle, but also helps create consumer electronics for companies like Motorola and apparel for the likes of Adidas.

Go to the accompanying slideshow for our full list of Influential Women in the Automotive Industry.

Time to Ascend the Ladder
Women hold only 13 percent of executive-level positions in the auto industry, according to a study released in July by the Automotive Women's Alliance Foundation. Four large automotive companies in the Detroit area were surveyed: American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Yazaki North America Inc.

Poor work-life balance was the top reason cited for such low numbers of women in upper echelons; a slower rate of promotion than that of male colleagues was the second most cited reason, says Janice Krupic, president of Paragon Leadership International, the Wixom, Mich., consulting firm that conducted the study. (Incidentally, poor work-life balance was also among the top reasons men cited for leaving a company.)

Bobbie Gaunt, former president and CEO of Ford Motor Co. of Canada, whom many revere as a trailblazer for upwardly mobile women in the industry, knows the anxiety of trying to reconcile tensions between work and home life, which is especially challenging for women with children. She recalls Ford's former chief executive, Jacques Nasser, scheduled meetings for his top U.S. executives on Thanksgiving Day, but convened them in Canada, where it wasn't a holiday.

For many senior people, who like Gaunt were already working 14 to 16 hours a day, five to six days a week, Nasser's unspoken expectation of 24/7 effort proved to be too much. "Working like that becomes counterproductive," Gaunt says. "Ford lost a ton of senior executives, particularly women. It became like an endurance contest. If I’d wanted to run marathons, I’d have trained for one."

Gaunt, with partner Jeff Phillips, now runs a group of five Midwest auto dealerships collectively called The Capitol Group.

Power in Numbers
Women buy more than 50 percent of all new cars and influence 85 percent of all new-car purchases in the United States, according to Paragon.

"I feel very strongly that organizations that are going to have long-term viability and global economic ties will have talent pools that reflect their consumer base, which means if we were to look in the automotive industry, and look at the various levels, it would not be reflective of the consumer base," Kupric says.

Kupric and others, including the NHTSA's Nason, say that encouraging grade-school-age girls to excel in math and science and to involve the auto industry in high-school outreach projects is instrumental in getting more women in top-level positions.

In the meantime, the auto industry's long-standing reluctance to represent women equitably not only in the workforce, but in the consumer arena as well, has opened up opportunities for entrepreneurs like Jody Devere. In 2006, she launched AskPatty.com, a site for women car buyers and owners, which attracts some 500,000 users a month. It also trains and certifies dealers who want to develop female-friendly sales and maintenance practices.

Although less than 5 percent of the more than 20,770 new-vehicle dealerships that belong to the National Automobile Dealers Association are female-owned, the association's board is chaired by a woman, Annette Sykora.

Sykora, who is on our list of influential women in the industry, is a third-generation auto dealer who heads her family's dealerships in northern Texas. It's a big responsibility — one she eases on a certain patch of Texas tarmac with two S curves.

If she takes it twice in about 15 minutes with her white 2008 Ford Edge, "the world is right," she says... 

 

read the complete article at ForbesAutos.com by ELIZABETH BLISH HUGHES or view the  accompanying slideshow to see the full list of Influential Women in the Automotive Industry.


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