In a four-decade-long career, Citroen's Linda Jackson has stood out in the male-dominated car industry.
Linda Jackson, who was CEO, Citroen brand - PSA Groupe for six years till January 2020 and has now moved to a new role within the PSA Group to lead a study on brand differentiation, speaks to Sergius Barretto about her four-decade-long journey in the automotive industry and also offers other women corporate advice.
Can you tell us about your path from high school to where you are today?
Nothing predestined me to hold this position. To be honest, I came into the automotive sector by accident, very young: I was just out of high school and barely 18 years old. Forty-two years later, I’m here! My parents were civil servants and we lived in Coventry. After high school, I enrolled in a university to become a teacher. But before I went to university I wanted a summer job to earn some money. My uncle, who worked at Jaguar, told me that they were hiring young people for the summer. That’s how I started – with a summer job.
What I had to do was not very complicated; it was a basic job. After two months of this experience, I chose to stay and not go to university as planned; because I was curious about all the facets of the automotive industry and I wanted to know more! I found the “automotive” product exciting. It is a product of freedom, of design that generates emotion.
So chance had led me there. My curiosity and desire to learn more made me stay. It seemed more interesting and unconventional to me than becoming a History or English teacher. I could learn while I started earning a living. This decision definitely changed my trajectory.
Was there any risk-taking? Yes and no: the English system is very pragmatic. Experience counts as much as an education. At 35, I went back to university to get an MBA while working. It was necessary, at some point in my career, to continue to evolve. Working at 18 was my choice, the affirmation of what I wanted – or rather, what I didn’t want.
In life, I believe that you have to know how to seize opportunities and dare not to follow what you are predestined for. So I started my career in 1977 at MG Rover Europe, where I held various positions; in particular, managing director for France from 2000 to 2003. I joined Citroën in 2005, first as finance director of Citroën UK, and then of Citroën France, from 2009 to 2010.
I was appointed CEO of Citroën UK and Ireland in July 2010. And since June 1, 2014, I was CEO of the Citroën brand.
Looking back at your early career, are you exactly where you thought you’d be? Did you know this is what you wanted to do?
You know, I had not anticipated a career plan to reach my position as CEO of Citroën. But honestly, today, I cannot dream better!
It’s a fantastic job. If I’m here today, I think it’s thanks to my 42 years of experience in the automotive industry, thanks to my skills, my work, and the opportunities I’ve taken. So I had not anticipated anything; but clearly, if I had to do it again, I would not change anything!
What was your motivation along the way?
My motivation was both internal and external. Internally, I would rate myself high on self-motivation and therefore in every job that I did, the intent was to garner a rich and diverse experience. Externally, it has always been an ability to understand the business environment in which I worked.
Having started my career in very operational jobs allows me to understand the difficulties encountered by my teams. So as a manager, I attach a great importance to listening to them. For me, being the big boss does not mean being an expert in all areas. I trust my teams to involve them. And at the same time, I am very pragmatic when it comes to taking decisions. I think this is the key to good management. Of course, it is also a huge challenge and
a lot of work for me and my teams, but the automotive industry is such a fascinating world that it clearly pushes us every day to surpass ourselves.
Did you face or do you face any sexism in your role; and if so, what advice would you give other women on managing this?
I believe that organisations today are aware that the women and men are key assets of any successful venture. It’s the role of each individual on the team that brings collective success. I have been fortunate enough not to face any kind of real sexism in my career.
However, my advice to those who may face any adverse situations is to ensure that you are recognised for your talent and ability. Stay undeterred in your chosen path. It is impossible to keep talent hidden for long.
Moreover, today, with the growing gender equality and awareness, most organisations have support groups or aware-lines to ensure that women get due support and hearing. One should make use of the same in case you witness unfair discrimination or sexism. Speak up. It’s your right and you must exercise it.
This interview was first published in Autocar India, August 2019
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