Can a Latina succeed in a male dominated automotive world?
Editor’s note: After this story published, Claudia Marquez was appointed chief operating officer of Genesis North America, serving as the top ranking officer in the company. We can’t wait to see what awaits the future of Genesis with her in charge.
Claudia Marquez, president of Hyundai’s Mexico division, told us that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Generous with her thoughts and palpably driven by achieving objectives, Claudia Marquez sure has proven it—at an international level.
What are the keys to her success leading one of the top global automakers this important Latin American market? And what can we learn from her? All we need to do is drive on strong. We spoke with her in both Spanish and English so all readers can enjoy.
The Car Keys: The Tools and Learnings That Have Been Instrumental to Her Success
Claudia Marquez, recently appointed president of Hyundai’s Mexico division, recognizes that a few tools have been crucial to her success: “Siempre eres capaz de hacer lo que quieras. Cualquiera de los retos que tengas en frente, eres capaz de enfrentarlos. Depende de ti. (Depende) de la fortaleza, de las ganas, de la disciplina de la objetividad, de la congruencia, de los valores, pero sobre todo depende de ti. Está en mi capacidad, mi fuerza poder hacer las cosas.”
“You are always capable of doing what you want. Regardless of the challenges you have in front of you, you are able to face them. It depends on you. It (depends) on your strength, your will, how much you want it, your discipline, objectivity, congruency, values—but above all, it depends on you. It is in my power and strength to get things done.”
Related: What Drives Her: Dorothy Glinton Fought Discrimination and Stereotypes to Force Change in the Auto Industry
From 0 to 60: Why a Male Dominated Industry?
Working in the automotive industry was never Claudia’s goal. As a matter of fact, she was not passionate about cars. Claudia is Mexican and grew up in Mexico under a German bicultural umbrella. She wanted to make good use of her second culture, and that is what took her to cars.: BMW was searching for someone with just her credentials. Once she discovered the complexity of the industry and understood how much she could learn, there was no turning back.
“Me apasiona. Independiente de si era una industria de hombres o si era algo para mi o no; lo que era importante era lo que tenía enfrente: una industria que me llenaba de emoción y de retos de sustos y de todas esas cosas positivas que me hacían hacer lo mejor que podía todos los días.”
“I am really passionate about it. Independently of if this was an industry of men, or if it was something for me or not, what was important was what I had in front of me: an industry that filled me with excitement, challenges, scares, and all those positive things that made me do the best I could every single day.”
It Takes More Than a Driver: The Mentors in Her Career
Claudia takes a moment to recognize those that have made a big difference professionally. In her first 10 years in the industry, she had two very important mentors at BMW, both of whom taught her and gave her the sense of security and certainty she needed to forge forward on her own. And, they also gave her the support she required as she became a mother of two daughters. They were leaders with a great deal of experience that helped her understand the industry and take the platform to a higher level in technical terms.
She adds:” Y también la parte humana y en el soporte en el nivel mujer y nivel mama, en donde te hacen sentir el valor que tienes suficientemente fuerte en la empresa que también te apoye en un momento que tu tienes algo tan especial personal como es ser madre. Importante porque quizá si no hubiera tenido tanto apoyo hubiera tenido que ceder un poco más en un trabajo tan fuerte. Agradezco a la empresa y en particular a estos dos jefes sus enseñanza en términos de disciplina y ética también en términos personales para poder hacer los dos.”
“Also in the human side and the support at level of being a woman and the opportunity of motherhood. Where they made you feel the value you had which was strong enough for the company to support you in a moment when you have something so special and personal as it is becoming a mother. It is important because, if I hadn’t had so much support, I would have had to yield some in such a demanding job. I am grateful to the company, and in particular to these two bosses whose teachings in terms of discipline and ethics and also in personal terms allowed me to do both.”
For the second part of her career, Claudia names Jose Muñoz as a strong mentor. To her, he is one of the strongest, most intelligent, and most excellent people she has met in the automobile world. She is grateful to him for the invitation to join a Japanese brand to learn about market volume.
And how is it working with him? “Me impacto su forma, entrega, dirección objetividad. Ha sido muy importante para mi carrera en los últimos años y me permite poder aprender. (Para) Trabajar con él tienes que estar super pendiente y super alerta. Llevo trabajando con él y estoy segura de conocer su forma de dirigir y sus expectativas. Por más de que llegas muy preparado, con todas las respuestas que crees que te va a preguntar, él siempre llega con una nueva. Y la verdad es que es una maravilla por ese es el que te lleva a un paso adelante para cualquier estrategia que pongas en la mente. y agradezco enormemente porque es una maravilla poder seguir aprendiendo y dando un mejor resultado. Es muy exigente y retador con una gran calidad humana. siempre está a un nivel de detalle impresionante pero siempre con esa parte humana.”
“His form blows me away. Not only that but also, his dedication, leadership, objectivity. He has been very important for my career in the las years and allows me to learn. To work with him you need to be extremely alert. I have worked with him for years, and I know his leadership style and expectations. But despite how well prepared you might be, and how ready with every answer you are thinking he might need, he always has something new. And that is truly fantastic because he takes you a step further. I am very grateful because it is marvelous to continue learning and giving the best I can. He is very demanding and challenging but has an incredible humanity.”
Going Full Throttle in the Driver’s Seat as a Leader
Claudia describes herself as someone who is very goal oriented and extremely direct and pragmatic. Always looking out for the details, she loves working in a team. She believes her leadership is about directing with questions, and she loves to have fun with the team. In the end, they spend many hours together, and she enjoys playing pranks from time to time. That said, “Soy sumamente enfocada y directa pero también personal.”
“I am extremely focused and direct, but I am also very personable.” — Important qualities to have in a boss.
She admits that it takes a bit until you get to know her:” Mi forma es fuerte. es directo lo cual no es siempre bien recibido porque asusta. Aunque no es de ninguna manera la intención.”
“I am strong and direct, which is not always well received because it intimidates people. Even though it is absolutely not my intention.”
In a life of executive development that she hadn’t anticipated, she has learned the importance of mentorship over the years. And so, she always was sure that the day she had the opportunity to make a difference for the people of a team and their development she would. Her approach is twofold: “La primera por supuesto en la forma técnica y la excelencia y conectar los dots. retar al equipo para ir a un paso más adelante pero siempre tratando de lanzar la parte personal. Creo plenamente que no tenemos que estar 15 horas al día en la oficina para ser efectivos y ser exitosos. Además que para ser efectivos y exitosos considero que tenemos que tener un balance y el balance es personal, es salud, familiar y esto es algo que también promuevo mucho en los equipos. Por supuesto que tenemos resultados que entregar y entregar lo mejor de nosotros pero por otro lado busquemos un balance personal. Entonces es una combinación de los dos. Soy fuerte en mi acercamiento sin duda, quisiera decir que soy dulce, no soy dulce pero si soy muy personal y muy cercana a la gente.”
“First, of course, is the technical form and the excellence to connect the dots. Challenge the team to go further but always try to launch the personal aspect. I totally believe that we do not have to be in the office 15 hours a day to be effective and successful. I believe we need to have a balance. That balance is the personal side of things, which include health and family. This is something I promote a lot among the teams. Of course, we need to deliver results and give the best of ourselves. But we need to find a personal balance. So, in the end it is a combination of both. I am strong in my approach, there is no doubt. I would like to say I am sweet—I am not—but I am very personable and close to people.”
The Strength of Diversity: Women in the Automotive World
Claudia jokingly that the women are in vogue these days because, every day ,there is more acceptance, support and inclusion. She adds: “Tengo una grandísima ventaja porque si bien es una industria tradicionalmente de hombres y que cada vez se abre más efectivamente somos pocas las mujeres y todavía más pocas la latinas que podemos estar en posiciones de este nivel. Y esa es la ventaja por que tu postura, tu vista y tu acercamiento es totalmente diferente a la de un hombre. Y por eso es que la inclusión es tan importante. Porque cuando estamos pensando en estrategias y en definiciones obviamente para acercarnos más a los consumidores en la medida que tienes un equipo más diverso más fuerte eres. Cuando tienes la oportunidad de tener la experiencia , la edad, representó diversidad, como mujer latina me da una fuerza y una posición muy diferente que a de muchos de mis pares porque efectivamente en mis juntas cony reuniones la mayoría con la que estás sentada negociando son hombres entonces la ventaja es brutal por que tengo una forma de acercamiento diferente que me han permitido ser efectiva en negociaciones y en resultados y yo lo veo más con una ventaja que como un reto que no quiero minimizar por que no es cualquier cosa, sin duda. Sin embargo creo que rompí ese techo de cristal en donde eventualmente te sientes hasta cierto punto amenazada y lo ves, al contrario, como una gran posibilidad y una gran ventaja.”
“I have an enormous advantage because, even though the industry is traditionally one of men, and we are few women and fewer still Latin women in higher ranks, it is opening more all the time. And that is the advantage, because your position, your point of view, and your approach is totally different to that of a man’s. That is why inclusion is so important. When we are thinking about strategies to get closer to consumers, if your team is more diverse, you are stronger. When you get the opportunity to have the experience, at my age, I do represent diversity as a Latin woman. That gives me strength and a vantage point very different from those at my level. Because when I am in a meeting where I negotiate mostly with men, then my advantage is crucial because I have an approach that is different. That approach has allowed me to be more effective in negotiations and in gaining results. I see this more than as an advantage, as a challenge that I don’t want to minimize. I believe I broke glass crystal ceiling where you might even feel threatened, but you look at it as a great opportunity and and advantage.”
Claudia Breaks the Glass Ceiling
Because she was busy plowing forward, she was not conscious about breaking the glass ceiling. Today, she does say that perseverance and not being scared were crucial. Since she wasn’t looking to develop a career, she did not make compromises with the way she did things or made decisions. Claudia admits that corporations can be intimidating, and trying to make decisions based on furthering a career can lead to a dead end.
Regarding fear, she explains that it isn’t that she wasn’t scared. As a matter of fact, her gut gets in knots every time she needs to make a major decision. It was more the fact that she took the decisions that she believed were needed and important at the time. Usually, she always went for the decision that was not the easiest one, but certainly the best one. Her guiding light has always been values of conviction and ethics along with due diligence for everything she was working on.
Paired to this, thanks to her work at BMW, Claudia recognized early on that empathy and respect towards another culture was paramount. To her, this goes beyond knowing the language. It is about truly understanding and respecting each other. Diversity and personal relations in business are important to develop the capacity to know and comprehend people who are different to you. This in itself for Claudia is a responsible advantage for everyone.
The Automotive World Heads Toward Inclusion
Claudia believes that big corporations in general understand that the more diverse the group of people working together, the more effective they’ll be. In this point she believes there are two things that need to be looked at: the way a company operates, and the way people operate: “En principio, las mujeres de mi generación no trabajaban y no lo hacian, por que no era la forma de operar de nuestras familias y lo que conocíamos en nuestra vida. Ahora se junta el entendimiento de las corporaciones de la importancia de la diversidad con las mujeres también querer tomar un rol distinto. Al final del día las mujeres (cualquiera pero ahora estamos hablando de las mujeres) podemos hacer lo que queramos. Claro está que hay que decirlo, asumirlo y después hacerlo pero sobretodo tienes que tener la convicción.”
“Women in my generation did not work. They didn’t because it was the way our families did it, how things were. Now we combine the facts that companies understand the importance of diversity and women want different roles. Obviously, we all can do what we put our minds to (not just women). But, it is not enough to say it. We have to own it and do it. We have to have conviction.”
Words of Wisdom for Women in the Automotive Industry
When asked what tips Claudia would share with women trying to make a name in the automotive industry, she laid out three things:
- Be sure of what you want to do. Commit to it. As you start to grow, know that you will start to see your personal life take a toll, even if you’re striving for balance.
- Decide what do you want to do for yourself, what makes you happy. This is really important because, as women, and more so for Latinas, we have lots that we want to do in our lives: career women, wives, mothers, daughters, a good friend, a great chef. So, make a list and give each item a weight. The result is your life balance. Once you know it, commit with strength, power and passion. Be disciplined and speak up, raise your hand.
- Don’t be scared to fail. If you have a different opinion or have another idea, don’t stop yourself because you are a junior to the one leading the meeting. We don’t want to make mistakes. If you don’t want to be in the wrong, you don’t want to take a risk, you don’t learn. In the end, we have nothing to lose. Think that there is a reason why you are where you are. When you speak up, it speaks about you, your courage, your value, and it helps you stand out.
Claudia summarizes by telling us not to be scared. Regardless of your industry or job, don’t be scared: “Y yo se que no es nada fácil la verdad que no lo es. Pero es algo que tenemos que trabajar. No te eches para atrás cuando sabes que tienes algo importante que decir. Como mujeres tenemos menos margen de equivocarnos que los hombres, y es una realidad. Pero es lo que es. Entonces tenemos que buscar todo lo positivo y todas las ventajas y hacerlo y hacerlo bien. no tengan miedo. No es tan sencillo pero si se puede.”
“I know it is not easy, it really isn’t. But it is something that we need to work on. Don’t go back when you know you have something important to say. As women, we have less of a chance to make a mistake than men do. It is a reality; it is what it is. So, we need to find all the positives, all the advantages, do it, and do it well. Don’t be afraid. It isn’t as simple, but it can be done.”
Tips for a Balanced Family-Work Life
How does the CEO of Hyundai balance her life? She offers that the first step is to determine what is balance for each of us.
15 years ago, she decided that she needed to run 4 times a week. Since then, every Sunday she looks at her agenda for the week, and depending upon work responsibilities, she pencils in her running hours. They are not always the same day or hour, but she makes sure those four hours are blocked and do get done.
She also did this with weekly family meals. When her daughters were younger, she decided she needed to be home for dinnertime at least three times a week. Once in her schedule, no one or nothing could change that. “A lo mejor el único que podía cambiar mi agenda sin saberlo era Jose pero en general sabia que no todas las noches tenía juntas tarde y que tenía que buscar noches en tenia que bloquearme por que eso me iba a poner a mi feliz. porque yo quería ver a las niñas y la que se estaba perdiendo de las chamacas era yo. ellas siguen creciendo.”
“Perhaps the only one that could change my schedule, without knowing it, was José [Muñoz]. But, in general, I knew that not every night I would have a meeting and that I needed those mealtimes with my girls to be happy because they were growing and I was missing out.”
Eventually, she also added time for her friends. She needed a space where she was not an executive, wife, or mom. So, once a month she spends time with her friends.
“Me he vuelto suficientemente egoísta en donde cuadro toda la agenda alrededor de todos los entregables que tengo en la oficina y una vez que los veo digo bueno estos espacios son miso y una vez que son mio ya nadie los toca. Ni modo o lo respeto o rompes por que siempre sale algo mas.”
“Once I have created my agenda for the office, I choose my times. Once they are mine, they are mine. You need to respect that because there is always something that comes up.”
Success and Happiness for Her Daughters
Claudia believes that, along with her husband, she has been fostering in her daughters the idea that they have the ability to do what they want. She doesn’t want any of them to follow her footsteps. The most important thing is that they determine what they want to do and that they do it well.
From her success, Claudia hopes her daughters’ takeaway is not to compromise their values, to be good people, and to be happy. In her words,
“La disciplina, perseverancia, amor por las cosas que hacer, el respeto y el valor te da un resultado muy bueno. Y eso es lo que yo quisiera más allá si eres una gran ejecutiva o no, si tienes alto nivel o no. Pero sobre todo no comprometer lo que sea más importante para ti . Que es tu felicidad, qué es lo que te hace feliz. Eso es muy importante. hay que buscar que nos hace feliz y después seguir que no es nada fácil.”
“Discipline, perseverance, love for the things that need to get done, respect and values give very good results. And that is what I really want for them. Above all, not to compromise with what is important for them. What is your happiness, what makes you happy? That is very important. We need to find what makes us happy and then go forth with it, which is not necessarily easy.”