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Cover Feature - A women’s world? Not quite, Michael

Though sexism in the City may be rife, judging by compensation cases brought by aggrieved female executives, their counterparts in the motor industry – traditionally regarded as macho land – say there really is equality between men and women. Take these comments, for example:

Sue Brownson, managing director of dealer group Blue Bell BMW in Cheshire and former president of the RMI: “In all the years I’ve been chairing various board meetings, I’ve never experienced what you would call a sexist attitude among the men present.” Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association: “While there may be adverse perceptions from certain males, overall I’ve never encountered a problem.”

Nikki King, managing director of Isuzu Trucks: “I can confidently say that the commercial vehicle sector is the least sexist I’ve come across – most of the best mentors have been men and they couldn’t have been more encouraging.”But if the motor industry is supposedly that enlightened, why are there only two women chief executives in the UK head offices of motor manufacturers? And why does Sue Brownson acknowledge that the presence of women dealer principals/general managers in the franchised dealer networks “is somewhat patchy”? Nikki King agreed with Brownson’s observation with the comment: “At dealership level it’s a bit flaky. Employers need to start thinking outside the box more, but you could ask why there aren’t more women supermarket managers when 80 per cent of the customers are women.”

According to King, though, the imbalance may be caused by women. “I get the impression that they think it’s still a man’s world and don’t have aspirations for the top jobs, even though they have the ability and experience.”

King, who began her career in fleet administration, recalls only one incident when she came up against a gender barrier. “The job of sales manager was thought better suited for a man on the grounds that he could deal with the (mostly male) sales team, but I took over when he was off with back trouble and proved that I was up to the job.”

For those who do make it up the executive ladder, she has one piece of fashion advice: “Don’t wear black and white at a function because some bloke is bound to ask you to get him a gin and tonic, thinking you’re the waitress!”

Sue Brownson says that the way to fulfil career goals is to “really believe in your beliefs and don’t think they’re unthinkable”. Brownson, who has been in the motor industry for more than 30 years after an earlier career running a business in exhibition stands, headed a BMW regional dealer council and then the national council before she became the first female president of the RMI (and the only one to date).

Of her time as president in the late 1990s, she said: “I was determined that it shouldn’t be seen as an element of tokenism.” Her inaugural speech drew some flak, but she explains that by saying: “It wasn’t a gender issue; it had more to do with my comments on RMI policy at that time.”

Brownson’s also on the board of the DTI’s  Small Business Council, which has an equal number of men and women, unlike the RAC Club. That was a real male bastion until Brownson was elected a board director earlier this year. She believes the motor trade is much more enlightened now and says it compares favourably with “some of the difficult men you meet in the City”.

If there’s one characteristic which separates the sexes, Brownson says it’s a greater willingness among women to offer praise “Even when someone has to be ticked off, perhaps we’re more measured about it and take into consideration what that person does well.”

En route for the boardroom, Debbie Hewitt coped with a full-time job and the demands of two stepchildren as well as studying for an MBA. “It’s said that women can do 10 jobs at once, but this was the most stressful period of my life,” said Hewitt, who in June of last year became managing director of RAC Rescue.

Responsible for a 1,500-strong patrol network along with 3,000 support staff, she’s dismissive of gender-based characteristics, commenting: “Women are supposed to be more empathetic, but I’ve known women who haven’t an empathetic bone in their body. Females don’t have anything unique to offer in business, it’s individuals.”

Hewitt says the MBA course proved invaluable in that it gave her a grounding in the running of a business. “It’s not just some academic exercise; there’s never a day when something I learned isn’t applied to my job.”

Another invaluable experience was her time in commercial management with Marks & Spencer in the early 1980s. “At that time, the company was renowned for its customer service and it’s something I’ve carried with me, almost to the point of obsession. Nearly every day I’m on the phone to customers – both those who have lodged a complaint and others who have paid us a compliment. This is not just about courtesy; it gives me the opportunity to find out what we’re doing right and wrong – process problems, bottlenecks and individuals doing something plain daft.”

Sarah Sillars, chief executive of the IMI, also pays tribute to Marks & Spencer’s managerial training. “During my time there (1979-84) it was recognised that the only means of promotion was through skills and achieving results. There was no apparent glass ceiling, though it has to be said there were no females on the main board.”

Sillars went on to become operations director of automotive consultancy Anne Gray Associates – nicknamed the “all girls’ agency” – where most of the work involved  dealing with men. “At no time did I encounter any overt sexism – on the contrary, we were always warmly received. Perhaps it was a case of one man not trying to tell another man how to improve performance, with a clash of egos.

"We weren’t regarded as a threat.”

Sillars does acknowledge, though, that women of “child rearing age” could face obstacles in career progression. “Dealerships particularly have a culture of anti-social working hours which doesn’t fit happily with domestic commitments. It’s a case of staying until the job’s done rather than working to defined hours.”

Sue Robinson, who recently took over from Alan Pulham as director of the RMI’s National Franchised Dealers Association, is used to a male dominated environment, having worked in the building industry earlier in her career.“Occasionally I’ve had to overcome perceptions among certain males, but that made me more determined to show that I could do the job. Working with other women is not without its frictions and one of the most nerve-racking experiences was a presentation to the Newspaper Society where a lot of the audience comprised female executives.”

• Of the 227 entries in a Who’s Who of motor industry executives published by the Guild of Motoring Writers, only four are women.

• A study into ‘occupational segregation’ carried out by the Equal Opportunities Commission shows that women account for less than 10 per cent of the motor industry workforce.

• Research commissioned by General Motors points to a 40 per cent increase in female buyers of new cars in Western Europe over the next 15 years.

• Last year’s RAC Report on Motoring suggested that eight out of 10 company cars will have been chosen by, or with the help of, a female.

• Eighty per cent of management category winners in this year’s Fleet News awards were women.

• Vehicle remarketing company VRS advertised for a senior sales position last year and received more than 50 applications. Not one was from a woman.

Who’s Who in the UK

Profiles for this feature are based on contacts with the top 20 dealer groups, manufacturers, motor-related organisations and word-of-mouth referrals.

Avril Palmer-Baunack, 41, is head of Universal Salvage, which scraps written off cars and auctions damaged vehicles bought from insurance companies.She joined the £50m a year company last March from the FMG fleet management services group where she was responsible for a rental network of over 300,000 vehicles at more than 2,000 locations, along with a rescue and recovery network of 1,500 agents.

Before that, Palmer-Baunack was business development director and then sales and marketing director of Europcar UK. Her arrival at Universal Salvage takes her back to the beginning of her 19 years in the automotive industry when she worked for a vehicle salvage and dismantling business in Edinburgh.

Maureen Constantine, HR director of GKN since July of last year, and a board member of its automotive division since 1995, joined the company as a graduate trainee in 1970 with a BA (hons) in social science. For over 20 years she had front-line experience in industrial relations, which included negotiation with trades unions at plant, district and national level. From 1998 to 2004 Constantine was HR director for GKN Driveline, which employs over 20,000 people in 31 countries, and in her present position she heads HR strategy across the group.

External positions include board membership of the Automotive Academy and Skills4Auto.

American born Bibiana Boerio, 51, managing director of Jaguar Cars, is a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania with an MBA and an honororary doctorate in law.

Her career has been spent with Jaguar’s parent, Ford, which she joined in 1976 as a member of the finance team. Subsequent moves took her into product development, sales and marketing and divisional control before her first Jaguar posting, as finance director, in l995. Boerio then went to Ford Credit as executive president and was also director of Ford strategy and finance before returning to Jaguar’s HQ in Coventry in July of last year.

Monazza Khan, director of legal affairs with Ford of Britain, joined the Ford European legal office in 1995 after qualifying as a solicitor and practising for seven years with a London law firm.

Her corporate work has included Ford’s acquisition of Cosworth Racing and the Stewart Grand Prix Formula 1 team. Khan, 41, also worked at Ford’s Michigan HQ.

Madlin Sadler, director of governmental affairs with Ford of Britain, oversees the company’s relationships with government, regional assemblies, Whitehall and local authorities. She also liaises with Ford UK and US boards on national and EU directives.

Sadler, 33, previously worked in Westminster, Brussels and the European Parliament.

Maureen Graham, director of vehicle programming and distribution, Ford of Europe, since the beginning of 2003, joined the company in 2000 from Nissan where she worked at the Sunderland plant before moving to sales with Nissan Europe. Her motor industry career began in 1981 working for a major components supplier.

Christine Gaskell, 46, member of the board for personnel at Bentley Motors, is an English graduate of York University. Joining Leyland DAF as a graduate trainee, she held a variety of personnel jobs over 13 years, culminating in the post of personnel planning manager.

Before joining Bentley, Gaskell spent two years as HR manager for Fisons Pharma-ceuticals. She now heads a team of 50 responsible for 2,500 employees worldwide, and is a board member of South and East Cheshire Training and Enterprise Council.

Donna Sanford, plant director of GM Manufacturing in  Luton, has the motor industry in her blood, having been born in 1962 in Detroit. Holder of a bachelor degree in industrial engineering and an MBA, she spent six years at GM’s Pontiac truck plant followed by spells in other plants before her appointment as executive director of general assembly engineering for GM’s North American operations.

Sanford is the second woman to head the IBC vehicle plant in Luton (her predecessor was fellow American Diana Tremblay), which produces commercial vehicles for GM, Renault and Nissan.

Pauline Wiseman is head of human resource operations at Honda (UK), responsible for the employment and development of 600 associates based at Langley, Berkshire. She also has responsibility for European management development and heads the Honda Institute, a training and development facility for the 10,000 people working in Honda dealerships in the UK.A graduate of Dundee University, Wiseman’s previous roles at Honda include. dealer development manager and head of finance.

Patricia Richards, chief executive of Automotive Skills, the Sector Skills Council for the retail motor industry, has worked across the public and private sectors as a freelance management consultant. For 12 years she was chief executive of a Training and Enterprise Council and served on a number of boards as a non-executive director, including a ministerial appointment to the National Forest Company.Richards is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Philippa Lucas, 41, IT manager of Volvo Car UK, is a Manchester University graduate who spent two years in the pharmaceuticals industry for The Wellcome Foundation before joining Volvo’s ‘young manager’ scheme in 1986. After a spell in market research and a field-based role supporting the dealer network with their business systems, she took three years off to raise a family before rejoining the company.

As well as her IT role, Lucas is a member of the Volvo regional management team engaged on strategic and operational decision-making.

Janet Burr, 37, HR manager for Volvo Car UK, previously worked for Yorkshire Electricity, Allied Domecq and Carlsberg Tetley before joining Volvo in 1997. In 2002, she moved to Volvo Car Corporation in Sweden to develop a corporate leadership programme, returning to the UK last year as HR manager for Volvo Car UK and Ireland.

Bev Cole, 34, chief financial officer for Volvo Car UK and Ireland, joined the company as an assistant accountant, became a financial analyst and then manager of forecasting and planning. In 2002, she was appointed to the pan European role of CFO for Volvo Car Finance before moving to Sweden as manager of business control for Europe.

Cole returned to the UK in September to become the first female CFO for the company’s UK and Ireland operations.

Anne Chamberlain, 40, Volvo’s London operations manager, is a philosophy graduate who later qualified as a chartered accountant. She worked in the leasing industry for Masterdrive and Velo, and after a short stint at Honda Europe joined Volvo in 1996. Following a one-year secondment with Ford Financial in Europe, Chamberlain became dealer performance manager for the South West and Wales and took on her current role at the end of last year.

Tracey Shelley, 37, is chief executive of the Society of Operations Engineers, which embraces the Institute of Road Transport Engineers. Shelley, who began her career as an avionics engineer, joined the SOE in 2002 from the Institute of Energy where she was deputy chief executive.

Sarah Fisher, personnel and training director with Toyota GB, is a BA honours graduate with a post-graduate diploma in personnel management. She began her career with computer company ICL as a graduate trainee, later working in a variety of personnel and training roles with CFM Group (an outsourcing subsidiary of ICL), and Siemens Business Services where she was HR director for seven years.

Fisher was appointed to her current role at Toyota in 2002.

Vivienne Oliver, 32, programme manager with Delphi, describes herself as “the voice of Volvo within Delphi”, responsible for Delphi’s contribution to Volvo, Renault and Mack engines. Volvo’s latest contract with Delphi, worth $1bn, is for a fuel injection system for a new range of engines using a common platform across the truck range.

Oliver, who graduated from Brunel University with a science and engineering degree, says her job embraces everything from pricing and volume forecasts to business reviews and technology developments in countries which include Sweden, France, the US and Brazil.

Welsh-born Siân Vernon, director of human resources with Renault UK, is a BA (Hons) graduate in French who began her career with a venture capital investment company in the City before joining Renault as secretary to the sales operations manager.  After 15 months, she became a personnel assistant within the HR department, progressing to personnel manager.

With the birth of her first son, Vernon moved to Yorkshire and undertook some HR consultancy work before returning to the south to rejoin Renault as HR manager. Vernon deputised for the human resources director during the director’s long-term illness, which coincided with the Renault/Nissan alliance. She was formally appointed to her present position in 2002, heading a 45-strong department whose tasks include dealer training, recruitment and two graduate training programmes (one domestic and one international).  She is now the mother of two sons and a daughter.

Helen Thompson, director of information services with Renault UK since December 2000 and one of 11 directors on the company board, looks after the IS requirements of both Renault and Nissan’s head office, which are based on the same site in Rickmansworth. After obtaining a BA (Hons) degree in business studies, Thompson joined Vauxhall Motors  as a programmer, working mainly on manufacturing systems, before moving to Mercedes-Benz (UK) to project manage aftersales systems, including pan-European systems.

From 1986 to 1991, she had a spell in banking with TSB Retail, before moving back to the motor industry with Nissan, taking responsibility for systems development and support.

Thompson is also an associate member of the Institute of Linguists.

Lesley Upham, director of communications at Thatcham, joined the repair research centre in 1993 to set up the sales team and was appointed to her present role two years ago. When Thatcham became a member of the Euro NCAP vehicle safety organisation last year, Upham was appointed chairman of the communication group.

She is a board member of Skills Auto, a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a member of the IMI.

Wendy Rowe is chairman, MD and founder of Retainagroup, which provides glass and component marking security systems and registration (through the International Security Register) for 14 motor manufacturers.

Janet Entwistle, managing director of BT FleetClare Gilmartin, head of eBay Motors UKHilary Sykes, company secretary and corporate services director, PendragonJulie Tew, MD, Heritage Motor CentreAnthea Worsdall, director, Motor Law PublicationsDi Rees, director, Association of Car Fleet OperatorsLorraine Farnon, sales director, National Car RentalSue Scarf, HR director, ProdriveJane Gilham, HR Manager, XtracNicola Salter, HR Manager, Williams F1Rachel Rollason, national marketing manager, LexusAnn Wilson, finance director, European Motor HoldingsElena Bernardelli, marketing director, Fiat Auto (UK)

Senior women executives in the dealer network at Mazda... l Gill Gillanders, DP, Murray Mazda, Edinburghl Samantha Petch, DP, SG Petch Mazda, Durham l Maria Wright, DP, Coventry Mazda and Leamington Mazda l Donna McCloskey, group general manager, Donalds Mazda, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Peterborough l Justine Chapman, DP, Roy Chapman Mazda, Berkhamsted l Sam Robinson, head of dealer development, Robinsons Mazda, Leicester

...VolvoTracey Perry, dealer principal, HR Owen London NorthRuth Gregory, general manager, Keith Price Garages

...ToyotaClaire Morgan, DP, Toyota World Bristol Central; Sharon Rickers, DP, Toyota World Tamworth.

...FordCarly Pope, GM, Hartwell Ford, BanburyYvonne Cubbage, GM, Hartwell Ford, Kindlington

Volvo Car UK claims to have more women managers as a percentage of its total than most other car importers: 30 out of 140 are women (21%) and the management board has three females out of 11 members (27%). Volvo Car Corporation meanwhile points to its YCC concept car which was developed by an all-female team.