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Auto People: Ford Canada CEO Dianne Craig

Mom’s drive, math degree led to unlikely career in autos

Published April 9, 2014

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

Dianne Craig has spent her entire career with the Ford Motor Company. But it wasn’t something she planned to do — in fact, she didn’t expect to be in the auto industry at all.

It was her mother’s insistence on education, and an ad for a job, that ultimately led her to the top position as president and CEO of Ford Canada.

“I grew up in Buffalo, but my dad died when I was 4,” Craig says. “My mom was widowed at 34 and had four kids all under the age of 9. She didn’t have a college degree and it was hard on her. I didn’t realize at the time the impact it had on me, but she enforced that I’d go to college and get a degree so I could be self-sufficient.”

Her mother then married a man who worked at Ford, but Craig still had no interest in the car business. She did like math, though, and got her degree in that.

“But I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says. “There was an ad looking for an entry-level position at Ford. I didn’t tell my father I was going to pursue it, because I was going to do my own thing. He didn’t even think it would be the path I would choose.”

The company was looking for business administration graduates, but Craig’s math degree got her the job in 1986 as a contest and incentives manager. She called on dealers to manage the programs, which involved understanding the market, the competition, and how much to offer customers on each vehicle.

She moved into various roles in the company, including as a regional manager in Pittsburgh, where she oversaw about 250 dealers and a staff of 30. She also worked as a dealer relations manager when times at Ford got tougher.

“I did that for four years, when our company was going through a crisis,” she says. “The dealers weren’t making money and they were struggling. You have to learn to make a lot of cuts and work with your dealer partners, which was an incredible learning experience.”

In March 2009, Craig was named general manager for the U.S. Southeast market, where she was responsible for all marketing, sales, and service operations for 520 Ford and Lincoln dealers in five states.

She says this role provided much of the training she needed for her current Canadian position. But when she arrived here, she also discovered how much she still had to learn.

“The southeastern part of the U.S. is about the same size (as Canada) in dealers and volume,” she says. “But there are some significant differences, such as the segmentation of the vehicles people buy. It’s a different market approach. Being an American coming to Canada, I thought the markets were more similar, until you spend time here.”

Canadians tend to buy smaller, less-expensive models, she says, and definitely prefer hatchback models that Americans shun.

She’s also finding that Canadian buyers are starting to embrace the U.S. style of longer-term financing.

“They’re going into 84-month contracts, and we don’t think that’s in the best interest of the customer,” she says. “We’re trying to get customers into shorter terms.”

Craig was appointed to the top Canadian position in November 2011, where she heads up the national headquarters in Oakville, regional and branch offices, three auto and engine manufacturing plants, and two parts distribution centres.

“Before I came to Canada, I had jobs in service operations, customer satisfaction, advertising assignments, dealer relations,” she says. “Every job was a building block to get to where I am.”

Craig spends a lot of time calling on dealers, where she even talks to the technicians about servicing vehicles.

“That’s important, because the dealers are driving our business in the marketplace,” she says. “I have to make sure we’re running a profitable business and taking care of our customers. I also spend a lot of time with government officials on policies to grow the Canadian business. There are many facets of being a CEO, and it involves many areas.”

And she admits that, although she likes cars, she is not a fanatic. “I just love this business because it’s constantly changing, whether it’s the technology, or what the future brings. I had aspirations to move up with the company and I was put in the right positions, and I’m constantly being challenged.”

Freelance writer Jil McIntosh has been contributing to Wheels since 1987 and reviewing new cars and trucks for more than a decade. She also writes about automotive technology, industry and history and is an antique-car enthusiast and owner.

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