Women are such a rare sight in the auto industry's upper echelons that when Marie-Christine Caubet arrives for meetings with European auto executives, she is sometimes taken for an assistant. Big mistake: Caubet, 51, is the most senior woman in an operating position at a European car company.
And her job as Renault's senior vice-president, responsible for sales in France, is no piece of cake. France accounts for 39% of Renault's (RNSDY ) revenues and an even larger share of profits. What's more, Caubet has had to push an aging model line at a time when rival Peugeot is rolling out hits such as the popular $13,000 Peugeot 307 compact.
The unflappable Caubet, however, seems to relish the challenge. "She combines rigorous management with the ability to motivate a team," says Renault Chairman and CEO Louis Schweitzer. For example, Caubet has pushed her sales group to move the metal by designing creative packages that combine loans, insurance, and other services. Renault now offers buyers of the top-line $23,500 Espace minivan, $26,100 Avantime coupe, and $27,000 Vel Satis premium sedan a benefits package that includes a free replacement vehicle if the car is in the repair shop, plus perks such as help in obtaining hotel rooms and theater tickets. "It's a new way of owning a car," says Caubet.
Thanks to her efforts, Renault's share of its home market has climbed to 28%, from 24% last July. The company hopes to boost its share even more later this year, when it rolls out a new version of its $13,140 Megane.
Caubet comes from a family of hard-driving executives. Her brother, Philippe Bourguignon, headed Euro Disney during the Walt Disney Co. subsidiary's tough early years in France, turning it around before leaving in 1997 to take over the struggling Club Méditerranée. Caubet says she and her siblings were raised to be independent by their father, an agricultural equipment importer who moved the family around to various postings in France and northern Africa.
Caubet doesn't consider herself a "hyperfeminist." But she believes that there should be more women in senior management. "It would be a more balanced work environment," she says. It also makes good business sense. After all, in France today, one out of every three car buyers is a woman.