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Exclusive: Fiat Chrysler CEO explains shock resignation
Priorities: Family values are at the heart of Veronica Johns’ successful career as a car company executive – and her decision to leave.
PA who became the boss applauded: top CEO, top daughter
4 November 2014
THE president and CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia, Veronica Johns,
who has chosen to cut her career short to look after the wellbeing of her
parents following the sudden illness of her father, leaves the company in very
Ms Johns decided to resign because her parents live four hours from Melbourne
and working two days a week at FCA Australia headquarters and three days a week
remotely looking after her parents’ welfare meant that she believed she was
unable to do justice to her responsibilities.
She resolved late in August to retire and the delay in the announcement, made
last Wednesday, was to allow FCA to secure her successor, Pat Dougherty, whose
appointment was revealed two days later (see separate story – link below).
In an exclusive interview with GoAuto, Ms Johns said: “I just need time to sort
things without constant (company) emails and midnight phone calls.
“The two days (in the office) and three days remotely is a lot of pressure. I
just could not invest what I believe to be the right attention to the business
“I would never have considered taking three months sick leave or anything like
that because it is not fair to the business because this business needs a
leader who is 100 per cent committed and focused.”
Ms Johns has worked for Chrysler for the past 16 years – she took over the top
job from Clyde Campbell in April last year – and has the relatively rare
distinction of being the PA that wound up running the place.
But, she says, that was never a strategy.
“It’s funny because it was never my intention to climb the corporate ladder. I
just took jobs as they came up. I just decided to have a go at this and have a
go at that,” she said.
“When I fell into sales about nine years ago I just worked my way up through
that as well. But it was never a plan. I never started my career thinking I
wanted to be the CEO of this place. It did not happen like that.
“It turned out that I was just great at the things that I did because of the
values I have carried with me right from the start and because I have been open
and honest and transparent with whoever I deal with (which meant) I have been
able to build and maintain excellent relationships.
“So you get to do amazing things when you are delivering amazing things. But it
really just ended up happening,” she said.
Her business mantra would be a distinct factor: “Make your boss look awesome.”
Since her appointment to the director of sales role in 2010 when volume was
around 10,000 units, FCA Australia has seen growth to potentially 40,000 sales
This has been built off the back of strong brands – particularly Jeep, but also
Chrysler, Dodge and now including Fiat and Alfa Romeo – as well as clever
marketing (‘I bought a Jeep’), a strong relationship with dealers experiencing
sales growth and a CEO who invests herself in the 130 people who work for her
and who she treats like family.
“We have just been really fortunate that we have great people who work here who
love doing amazing things. It’s a fantastic team and a real family. We really
encourage everyone to buy into that,” she said.
“I know the great opportunities that I had. I had such amazing managers
throughout my career that I wanted the same opportunities for everyone else.
You want to see people succeed like I have … so they can do great things.”
Ms Johns said she believed it was important to grow employees not just for
success within the company but to grow them to be successful in any company
they may go to.
She said that the 40,000 sales this year would be “an absolute credit to the
dealer network” which she praised for buying into FCA’s sales programs in the
past few years.
“I have grown up with the dealer network. It is another part of my family. They
sell the cars and the relationship with the dealers has been a top priority for
everyone and we are true business partners,” she said.
“We have really tried to build an honest, trusting relationship with the
network. We talk a lot about the dealers and try to get our people really
invested in the relationship with them because for a lot of people these things
do not come naturally and potentially they are not aware of things that they
are doing that are not helping our relationship thrive.
“But that is not something I planned to do, it is just the way I have done it.”
Ms Johns said a key strength of the organisation as she leaves was its constant
search to be different from other car companies.
She said FCA Australia does not accept the concept of doing what others in the
“Whether it be in marketing, our relationship with the dealers, how our staff
operate and our departments interact. (When other car companies) are going one
way then we want to go the other way.
“That is what we are about. I don’t want to be the same as every other
manufacturer. I wanted to have that point of difference. That is one of our
Would she entertain a role again in the industry?
“Definitely. I love the industry.”
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