Australian woman appointed chief executive of Fiat Chrysler

Fiat Chrysler Australia has appointed Veronica Johns its chief executive. Ms Johns will become the first Australian-born woman to head a large car distributor in Australia.

Fiat Chrysler Australia has appointed Veronica Johns its chief executive. Ms Johns will become the first Australian-born woman to head a large car distributor in Australia.

She will be in charge of five brands: Fiat, Chrysler, Jeep, Alfa Romeo and Dodge.

Women have previously been in charge of car brands in Australia - the first at Chrysler from 2000 to 2003 and more recently at Volkswagen - although all have been brought in from overseas.

Ms Johns, 42, who started at Chrysler in 1999, said her gender had not held her back in an industry that "has long appointed me to the top jobs".

"There is [additional pressure], when you start in it - it certainly toughens you up a bit," she said. "When I first started in the region I hit 10 days of motor show and thought 'oh my god', how am I going to survive.

"Dealers are great; they'll work with you and are very supportive but they are tough in the same instance so it's been a great learning experience."

Outgoing chief executive Clyde Campbell recommended Ms Johns as his successor. He said there had been pressure from US head office to appoint an American.

"There were a number of expats put forward and sanity prevailed. They realised Veronica was the best person," Mr Campbell said.

While the automotive industry has long been criticised for being chauvinistic and blokey it is something many car makers are aware of and addressing.

Women have also played a pivotal role in vehicle design locally, with Sharon Gauci heading colour and trim design at Ford before moving to Holden in 2004. This year she moved to Detroit to look after Buick colour and trim for General Motors.

Fiat Chrysler has been on a steep growth curve since the appointment of Mr Campbell in 2010. The brands repositioned their models and used more aggressive marketing, with sales growing from about 8000 cars to 24,000 last year.

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