- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Fill a room with 100 leading women of the North American auto industry and what do you get? A celebration of talented individuals whose disciplines range from human resources, corporate affairs and public relations to manufacturing, engineering, design, sales and trade groups.

A dinner to recognize such talent recently was held in Dearborn, Mich., and it should come as no surprise that such a group was easy to assemble. Women's rise in automotive management demonstrates changes in society at large in which more women are graduating from college and seeking careers that lead to executive positions.

What's more, female consumers now have tremendous clout, buying 32 percent of all new cars and light trucks in the 1999 model year, a Polk Co. study shows, and influencing as much as 80 percent of all vehicle purchases.

The spirit required to forge ahead where others have not gone is tremendous, Barbara Vidmar, chairman of the American International Dealers Association, told the industry honorees. Yet, without pathfinders to mentor others, the emergence of leading women in automotive leadership would stall, or at best be impeded, she and others say.

We share a common bond, a shared identity, a common experience that revolves around events in early years where someone locked the door, agrees Barbara Cooper, chief information officer for Toyota Motor Sales. Both women and men need to support the next generation by teaching them survival skills, ethics and best management practices, she said.

Diane Allen is a good example. Miss Allen grew up in the Detroit area and attended Wayne State University, where her goal was to attain a degree in art. By her third year, she still wasn't sure where her career would take her. But someone else was.

A former Chrysler designer saw her work and said she ought to be designing automobiles. He was so certain that he got on the phone and arranged an interview for her at Detroit's prestigious Center for Creative Studies. Miss Allen was accepted, ultimately earning a bachelor of science degree in transportation design.

Miss Allen today, at age 40, is chief designer for Red Studio, one of the two exterior-design studios at Nissan Design International. There she manages studio operations and design, and the development of vehicle programs. Her all-new Z sports car will be unveiled at the Detroit International Auto Show in January.

Nissan made no judgment on her sex, she said. It was all about talent. But it wasn't a cakewalk either. Thanks to support from Nissan's former design chief, Jerry Hirshberg, Miss Allen was able to fulfill her ambitions. Be yourself, Miss Allen advises young women. Don't try to match the men. Bring to the table your own message and beliefs. Miss Allen was one of the 100 women honored for doing just that.


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