NO-NONSENSE BRIT IS PRODUCING QUIRKY, FASHIONABLE CITROENS, WRITES RAY MASSEY
A British woman who has overcome personal tragedy to lead French car giant Citroen and make it more fashionable and “quirky” has this week topped a list of the 100 most influential females in the UK motor industry.
Chief executive Linda Jackson, 57, was awarded the accolade for her role as the global boss of Citroen — one of only a handful of women to run a major international motor firm — responsible for creating cars bought by millions of customers.
She has been dubbed France’s new British “deesse” — or “goddess” — after the legendary Citroen DS of the 1950s and 60s whose letters were a French play on words for a deity.
Behind the scenes and just months into her top job, the mother of two grown-up stepchildren lost her husband, David, to cancer, after more than three decades together.
However, encouraged by her dying partner not to give up, she found the courage to carry on with her stellar career and to launch new Citroen models at the Frankfurt motor show last year.
One colleague said: “She was close to giving up. But David said he wanted her to carry on. It speaks volumes about her strength of character and determination that she fulfilled her husband’s dying wish and has proved such a success.”
The Great British Women in the car industry’s top 100 power-list has been compiled by motoring magazine Autocar in conjunction with the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) to encourage more women into the industry at all levels — including in the boardroom.
The new Citroen C3.Picture / Continental Productions
Women account for nearly half the drivers on the road and motor industry research reveals women play a part in the purchase of seven out of 10 cars. But industry chiefs say this is still not sufficiently reflected in the male-dominated car industry’s corridors of power.
A fluent French speaker who has lived and worked in France, Paris-based Jackson began her 39-year motor industry career with Jaguar and Rover, and worked her way up the corporate ladder in a variety of commercial and financial roles while gaining an MBA from Warwick University.
She was appointed global chief executive for Citroen in June 2014 — the first time a woman or a Brit have held that post. Before that she was managing director of Citroen UK and Ireland from 2010.
Jackson says her aim is to help the French take Citroen back to its roots with cars that are comfortable, affordable and innovative — but also fashionable and quirky with flair — and says she is bringing her Anglo-Saxon logic to the challenge.
Born in Coventry — once Britain’s Mo’town or Motor City — she spent 27 years at MG Rover before becoming financial director of Citroen UK in 2005 and managing director in 2010. She is also an executive committee member of Peugeot-Citroen parent company PSA Group reporting directly to its chief executive, Carlos Tavares.
She has been responsible for launching a series of significant Citroen models including the new Citroen Cactus, C3 hatchback and award-winning Citroen C4 Picasso, with more in the pipeline.
Jackson said of the Autocar/SMMT award: ‘It is such an honour to receive this award and to be recognised in this way.
“At Citroen, our motto is ‘be different, feel good’ and I believe this award is testimony to the hard work and creativity of everyone in the team. I hope this initiative inspires women to pursue a career in the automotive industry. As the list of winners shows, there is a wealth of talent in the sector and it is a very exciting industry to be a part of.”
A Citroen C4 Picasso undergoes real world fuel economy and emissions testing.
She says she hopes to bring some useful British perspective to the job of making Citroen “an Ikea for cars” noting: “I try to tackle it logically. I have a good team around me. It’s good to have diversity in the team and the Anglo-Saxon way of looking at things is very logical.
“We want to be more creative, affordable and offer things that really matter to mainstream customers. We want to be innovative in design.”
She stressed that “quirkiness is also central to making Citroen look and feel different from its rivals in an increasingly competitive market: Trying to be like everyone else is not the way. We’ve never been successful when we’ve tried to be like everyone else.”
Other winners include Yorkshire-born Helen Emsley, who leads the design team for GMC in the US.
Two Jaguar Land Rover executives were also honoured. Danella Bagnall, who heads the new Jaguar F-Pace production line, won for product development, and JLR communications director Fiona Pargeter was the highest ranked for public relations.
Awards were also made to young female rising stars.
Autocar editorial director Jim Holder said: “The achievements on our list of 100 outstanding British women in the global car industry are breathtaking and a testimony to the breadth of skills and capability in the sector.”
He said the under-representation of women in the industry, at a time of severe skill shortages, needed to be rectified.
By highlighting the achievements of great British women who continue to make a considerable impact on the global automotive landscape, we hope to stimulate interest in what is an exciting and rewarding career.”