With the Hispanic community growing in size, influence, and affluence, "This is a buying group you ignore at your own peril," warns Dan Gorrell, director of automotive practices for the California market research firm, Strategic Vision. But while more and more marketing dollars may be earmarked for the Hispanic audience, Hispanics still play a minimal role in the auto industry itself. But that's beginning to change, as folks like Ford Motor Co.'s Francisco "Cisco" Codina move into prominent and powerful positions.
Born in Cuba, Mr. Codina reached U.S. shores in 1965, at the age of 13. He joined Ford a dozen years later, and recalls it being "awkward at first," being one of the first Hispanics at the automaker. "You're a bit different, even the way you speak." Nonetheless, there was one "common thread," Mr. Codina adds, that provided him a golden opportunity. "You work hard and things happen."
Today, the 54-year-old naturalized American serves as group vice-president in charge of Ford's North American marketing, sales, and service operations. It's a powerful position, and a critical one, at a time when the troubled automaker is struggling to reverse a sharp decline in sales, market share, and earnings. Indeed, as part of its Way Forward turnaround plan, Ford is slashing nearly a third of its entire U.S. workforce, blue- and white-collar alike. "Things can get pretty rough," Mr. Codina admits. "But my family made its own bold moves," in 1965, he says, referencing both the risky move to America and Ford's new marketing slogan. "So, I'm not afraid. Nothing can be that rough, can it?"
Another rising star can be found just north of the border. On August 1, Arturo Elias was named president and managing director of General Motors of Canada. With a master's degree in engineering from Purdue University and an MBA from the University of Chicago, Mr. Elias plays a key role in GM's own turnaround effort as a member of the influential North American Strategy Board. He joined the giant automaker in 1978, working as a manufacturing engineer at Delco Electronics – now a part of the independent Delphi Corp., one of GM's largest suppliers. During his 28-year career, Mr. Elias has worked his way through a variety of GM operations, both home and abroad. He's served as a senior analyst with the GM Treasurer's Office and spent several years as managing director of operations in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia.
Another high-ranking Hispanic shocked the tight-knit automotive community when she handed in her resignation from Hyundai Motor America in early October. Michelle Cervantez joined the Korean carmaker in 2005 as vice-president of marketing. She'd previously served in similar positions at both Mercedes-Benz USA and Ford Motor Co., where she was vice-president of marketing for Jaguar's U.S. sales arm. Hispanic Business magazine had previously named Ms. Cervantez one of its "80 Elite Women in the United States" and one of the "100 Influential Hispanics."
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