PARIS - Since the late 1970s, Magda Salarich has risen from a small public relations job at Citroen Spain to become possibly the most senior female auto executive in Europe.
She did it, she says, because she is obsessed with results.
Under Citroen's cross-functional management structure Salarich, 43, has two important new jobs. She has taken over as general manager of Citroen Spain, and simultaneously has been named vice president of European sales.
In her native Spain, she has responsibility for Citroen's second-largest market after France. With her other set of duties, she faces an even tougher job - to improve Citroen's position in other key European markets, starting with Germany.
How will she manage? 'By being obsessed by sales and operating income,' said Salarich, who speaks perfect French, with just a slight Spanish accent. 'For each country, we must have these two targets.'
That philosophy has fueled a steady rise in an industry when senior women executives are few. Indeed, Salarich never considered working in the auto industry while studying at a Madrid engineering school. But after graduating, she met Antonio Garrigues, then head of Citroen's Spanish subsidiary. He hired her, and sent her to Citroen's plant in Vigo, northwest Spain, to set up an internal communications strategy at the factory.
'Vigo was endearing,' she says. 'A car assembly plant is a magic place. These first two years left a mark on me. I learned how much the industry demands rigor.'
In 1981 she returned to Madrid to take charge of press relations. 'You need be nimble for that job, and you have to thoroughly know the company and its products,' she says.
In 1986, she became marketing manager for Citroen Spain. 'It was an exciting time to do that job,' she says. It was the beginning of a boom in Citroen's sales in Spain, thanks to new products like the AX and an improved dealer network.
Salarich was put in charge of Citroen's marketing across Europe in 1994. Two years later she was named Citroen Spain's deputy general manager. Now as general manager, she will have a key responsibility inside the company: Spain is Citroen's second largest market after France, with 200,000 sales expected this year.
Salarich is known for her pragmatism and no-nonsense personality. She believes that good sales results can be achieved through aggressive pricing and advertising.
'I have to make sure Citroen stays as the second passenger car and light commercial vehicle brand (behind Renault) in Spain,' she says.
Meanwhile, Salarich says, she has barely noticed that she is one of the few women to ascend to the highest levels of a European auto company.
'In a company,' she says, 'the results do not have a sex.'