WOMEN LEADERS: MITSUBISHI’S KIMBERLEY GARDINER ON CHANGING THE AUTO INDUSTRY THROUGH DIVERSITY
I recently had the opportunity to listen to automotive veteran Kimberley Gardiner, Vice President and CMO of Mitsubishi North America. From covering her humble beginnings to her innovative approach that challenges common practices in the automotive industry, Gardiner’s story is one that inspires deep thinking.
KIMBERLEY GARDINER’S BACKGROUND
Kimberley started at Toyota, on the marketing team, working on the launch of the first-ever Toyota Prius. Following the launch, she worked at Lexus and Kia, until she realized her goal of working for a company that highly valued their morals and customer’s needs.
When she arrived at Mitsubishi, she focused on what she calls the “small batch advantage”. For Mitsubishi, that meant producing only five models of cars in North America. Although Mitsubishi is a smaller company, selling so few models of cars makes them an outlier in the industry. Kimberley shared that working for a smaller company opened many creative doors. It allowed her to turn her ideas into reality and break out of the norm.
After taking some time off to work at a startup, Kimberely received calls from multiple car companies who needed her help. When she sat down with the president of Mitsubishi, she was offered a job with a large amount of creative control. She accepted the position and the rest is history.
THE POWER OF A MENTOR
Kimberley didn’t immediately see herself as a figure capable of bringing large, positive change to a company. It took years of learning from several key mentors. Tim Morrison, a manager at Toyota, taught her that to bring change, one must understand the current system in its entirety. From Kia COO Michael Sprague, Kimberley realized the importance of listening before speaking. In her current position at Mitsubishi, Kimberley says she always looks for people to mentor and appreciates those who ask. As for her role models today? Kimberley especially looks up to Deborah Wahl (CMO at Cadillac) who she worked with at Lexus.
WOMEN IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
To Kimberley, the recent rise of women in the auto industry has nothing to do with gender, but rather talent. She believes women bring a fresh perspective to the table, which inspires people to view an issue from several different angles. When dealing with group decisions, Kimberley sees a room full of women as a collective making a decision, not the individual. Ego plays less of a role. She sees women as being more sensitive and inclusive. In a business setting, those characteristics are key. They help people understand a situation and select the right course of action to rectify it.
Representation of women at the C-suite level on the rise, and Kimberley is also pushing to see more women on dealership floors. She believes that women bring a more tailored understanding to each customer interaction. Unfortunately, she remarked that working at a dealership requires long hours, and is not very conducive to having a family.
Apart from admiring Kimberely’s great accomplishments, her interview gave me many important things to think about. For one, I learned the importance of diversifying a group. Diversity brings fresh perspectives that are not as easily discoverable among a homogeneous set of people. Additionally, Kimberly described the importance of mentors. They not only help you plan your future, but they also allow you to reflect on previous experiences. Kimberely’s example of finding success in a typically male-dominated industry sets a precedent. She inspires future generations to disrupt conventionally held beliefs in the best ways possible.