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October 25, 2006

Are Female Auto Execs a Dying Breed?

Die Anne  Doyle of Automotive News writes this week about something that has been screaming in my brain since the news of Anne Stevens departure from Ford Motor Company last month.My shock and disbelief that she was leaving Ford still has me reeling...

Anne Doyle writes, "Don't look now; the old-boy culture may be coming back......
When the highest-ranked woman in the automotive industry walks out, it's time to say out loud what so many have been whispering."

"The Detroit 3 are losing women's leadership talent almost as fast as they are losing market share."

"The 1990s were heady days for ambitious, talented women at what used to be the Big 3. So many highly skilled female engineers, designers, lawyers, plant managers and other professionals broke through into leadership positions that Automotive News in 2000 published its first list of "100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry." The land of greatest opportunities seemed to be the Big 3; the imports were well behind. "

"That was only six years ago, but today it seems like a very long time ago."

"The most alarming indicator of the state of the domestic auto industry is not vehicle inventories, stock prices or health care costs. It's the talent drain."

Here are some of the top women who have left Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler in the past 5 years (and where they went).


  • Elizabeth Acton, treasurer (Comerica)
  • Anne Doyle, director, North America public affairs (consulting)
  • Karen Francis, CEO, ConsumerConnect (Limerick Lane Cellars, then Publicis & Hal Riney)
  • Barbara Gasper, VP, investor relations (MasterCard Worldwide)
  • Janet Mullins Grissom, VP, Washington affairs (Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart, a Washington lobbying firm)
  • Kathleen Ligocki, VP, customer-service division (Tower Automotive)
  • Kristin Odeh, director, global consumer systems (Dell)
  • Kathy Oswald, executive director, human resources customer operations (Right Management Consultants)
  • Anne Stevens, executive VP; COO, the Americas (Carpenter Technology Corp., effective Nov. 1)
  • Jan Valentic, VP, global marketing (Young & Rubicam)
  • Mary Ann Wright, director, sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs (Collins & Aikman)


  • Mary Boland, North America VP, finance (Levi Strauss)
  • Annette Clayton, North America VP, quality (Dell)
  • Maryann Goebel, North America chief information officer (DHL)
  • Debra Kelly-Ennis, COO, Saab Cars USA (Diageo North America)


  • Michelle Cervantez, VP, marketing, Mercedes-Benz (Hyundai Motor America)*
  • Julie Roehm, director, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge marketing communications (Wal-Mart)
  • Karenann Terrell, VP & CIO, Chrysler group and Mercedes-Benz NAFTA (Baxter International)

I attended the 100 Leading Women event in 2005 and was so impressed with the progress we were making as women from 2000 to 2005.  Why are these top women leaving to go other industries?

With more than 50% of new cars sold to women in the US and 85% of new car buying decisions influenced by women, the billion dollar question is : Who will be the key influencers to guide marketing, design, strategy and sales  efforts  from the top down to attract, retain and keep loyal women customers to these brands? With the ranks of top executive women at the Big 3 dwindling, will it be left to the automotive 'ole boys club?

Please post your thoughts and comments below!

Jody DeVere
President, Inc.
Women's Automotive Association International


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