What Drives Her: Chris Feuell is Energizing Chrysler for an Electrified Future

Chrysler Airflow Concept Ces 2022 Chris Feuell 37
Chris Feuell has the good fortune and challenge of leading Chrysler into an electrified next era. Photo: Chrysler

As CEO she’s transforming the Chrysler legacy and leading the future of electric cars at Stellantis.

It’s a daunting assignment: take the helm of an auto brand that’s been earmarked for a turn around that will lead its corporate parent’s electrification strategy, all on a fast-track timeline. 

“I did a bit of soul searching,” said Christine Fuell— known as Chris— the newly appointed chief executive officer of Chrysler. Reporting directly to Stellantis global CEO Carlos Tavares, she is charged with taking the 97 year old company into the future at warp speed. 

“At its peak [Chrysler] had 12 nameplates and rivaled the competition in market share. Now there are two nameplates in two shrinking segments,” she said, referring to the Chrysler Pacifica minivan and the Chrysler 300 sedan. 

But “the opportunity to really transform the brand, grow products, technology and customer experiences,” and to define the next era of the nearly 100-year heritage of creativity innovation was too tempting to walk away from. 

What prepared Chris for this role, and how did she set her goals in motion? And what can others, especially women, learn from her career journey? 

Chris will share more from her experience and outlook on the upcoming Reuters Automotive Events International Women’s Day Virtual Event on March 8th at 12:30 PM ET. You register here to join us. 

Chris Feuell With The Chrysler Airflow Electric Concept Car

Chris Feuell with the Chrysler Airflow electric concept car. Photo: Chrysler

Revealing Chrysler’s Future at CES

Chris’s first high profile appearance since she joined Chrysler in September, 2021 was at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, the premiere global technology gathering held each year in Las Vegas. It’s the stage that Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Bill Ford, Sundar Pichai, Mary Barra and others have sought to position their brands for the future. This year, Chris was there to share the Chrysler vision with the unveiling of the Airflow concept car, an all electric crossover that is the linchpin for the future of Chrysler and will set the stage for electrification for the rest of the Stellantis brand lineup—brands that include Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Opel, Peugeot, Vauxhall, Citroën, Abarth, DS, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Chrysler will introduce its first electric car by 2025 and will be fully electric by 2028. That’s an aggressive plan.

Luckily, Chris packs a bag full of varied and rich expertise that sets her up nicely to take on the assignment. From a thorough understanding of sales, dealerships and customers, to in-depth experience in the technology that is at the core of the future of automotive, her skills and experience are just what the company will need to embark on an ambitious journey.  

Related: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Adds AWD and More Luxuries, Making the Minivan Decision an Even Easier “Yes”

Understanding the Future—And Electrification— is Just Part of the Picture

“When we went to CES and revealed the Airflow, I was so excited to demonstrate such an exciting product representative of a modern and dynamic design theme, a crossover utility vehicle,” Chris said, noting that this crossovers and SUVs are hugely important in North America. “We’ve been known as a brand that invested in technology, but also invested in beautiful and premium interiors,” she said. To be competitive, Chrysler will go beyond aspirational design with high tech features to help customers have a great experience, both as a driver or passenger.

Not only is technology is the next area for differentiation, but it’s where Chris’s career really blossomed.

Chris Feuell, Ceo Of Chrysler

Chris Feuell, CEO of Chrysler. Photo: Chrysler

The Path to Chrysler CEO

“I didn’t expect to come back to automotive,” Chris said. After 14 years at Ford where she gained experience with dealers, customer service, parts strategy and product planning, she began to look at overall industry trends and strategies. What she saw encouraged her to make the leap to work for automotive suppliers Johnson Controls and then Honeywell. 

“You have to be mindful of market trends across the globe. That’s why I pursued opportunities outside of automotive, integrating smart technologies, learning more about the impact that software was going to have not just on products, but consumer experiences,” she said. This “shifted my thinking about what influence those technologies could have on the auto industry. That’s why the opportunity to come back and revitalize the Chrysler brand was so exciting and interesting to me.”

Related: If You Want a Free College Education, Work at Chrysler

The Key to the Executive Suite? A Progressive Set of Experiences

Chris’s journey started with understanding Ford’s dealers, product distribution, customers needs, product planning and the impact it has has on making those functions work smoothly. Then, she sought to understand the inner workings of the product— technology, hardware and software. This became the assemblage of Chris’s experience that led to become CEO of Chrysler. She calls this “a progressive set of experiences. Having a broad network across not only the auto industry but also experience in other technology and industries,” and to “have insight and empathy for markets outside of our own” is what gave her the tools she needs to lead the company into its next era. And it’s a bold plan: “Over the next 10 years repositioning Chrysler as the clean mobility brand of Stellantis, [producing] 100% battery electric vehicles by 2028,” she said.

A Girls Guide To Cars | What Drives Her: Chris Feuell Is Energizing Chrysler For An Electrified Future - Chris Feuell Took Time While At Aident

Chris Feuell took time to connect with other women while at Aident, here speaking at an event at the University of Michigan. Photo: Aident, via Twitter

Set a Course and Find Your Guides

But it’s not just experience that led Chris to the C-suite. It was the desire to get there and then, a deliberate course aided by mentors and leaders who helped and advised. “It’s important to be honest with yourself about your strengths and your gaps,” she said. “We’re not all good everything.That’s where mentors were helpful to to understand what experiences and expertise I needed to do that.” And, then, making sure “you’re getting key assignments that set you up for that.”

What were those key assignments for her? “Product management is excellent, sales, calling on customers, being responsible for sales revenue and profit growth, meeting a P&L,” Chris said. “Women’t don’t always get selected” for these roles, perhaps because they don’t always seek them out or realize how important they are. But these positions give “you a skill set and visibility to key leaders who want to see who is in the pipeline,“ she said.

Related: What Drives Her: Alison Rahm, Chief Engineer, Dodge Charger

Look Beyond Your Job to the Greater World Around You

Many people are “too internally focused and are not translating” what they know to “how it solves an unmet need or adds value for customers or the market. We’re probably missing what the purpose or core strategy may be,” by not seeing the bigger picture, Chris said. 

That means that women should advocate for themselves, to make sure they’re getting key assignments and positions that set them up for the success they want. Understand the business, the customer experience and product value, and build your business acumen. Overall, “connect those dots, the solutions that help make customers lives better,” Chris said. 

Emotional Intelligence—A Necessary Leadership Skill

When the pandemic changed our work schedules and we all had to pivot, Chris was in the midst of brining on a new team at Honeywell. “I had to pay attention to how people were feeling; what could I see in body language and tone even though they may not have said it? I brought on 8 new people; how do I support them?” It’s a challenge more and more leaders will face. Chris turned to different kinds of tracking and access to subject matter experts to help them get up to speed. “You have to not only be thoughtful and considerate, but have have a structure of organization and template to better support people in a hybrid environment.”

This emotional intelligence is a skill that is helping Chris to get to know her new colleagues at Chrysler, just five months into the job. “Being brand new at Stellantis gives me an opportunity get to know folks better. In some cases, that has led to a more formal mentoring relationship, she said. She’s made it “a point to reach out to women in the organization who I’ve come to know and respect. [And] when I see a spark or talent that is untapped our un-nurtured,” she relishes the opportunity to help them see it, too.

“It’s important for us as women to feel we’ve got a strong relationship in a safe place to talk about things with another senior leader,” she said. “I learn from them as much as they learn from me.”

Paying It Forward: Her Most Important Mentees, Her Two Daughters 

“I’m the mom of twin daughters who turned 25” recently, Chris said. Their growth into strong, confident women has always been a priority for her. “I always brought them to take your child to work day. I wanted them to see what I did and make them comfortable in professional environment. To see me in meetings and get a better understanding for what I did when I went to work.” Chris’s daughters have carved their own path; Katie in mental health services and Kelley in marketing. “I like to think the experiences they had watching me grow throughout my career gave them foundation to better understand what they want to do,” Chris said. “They’ve done what I’ve raised them to do. I’m really proud of them.”

And they, no doubt, are proud of her, taking on her biggest career challenge yet: Re-charging Chrysler for an electrified future.

Join us for more conversation with Chris Feuell, CEO of Chrysler, on the upcoming Reuters Automotive Events International Women’s Day Virtual Event on March 8th at 12:30 PM ET. You register here.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss