Mary Jo Gresens
Chief financial officer, Schaeffler group; CEO of Automotive Division of Schaeffler's INA unit
Mary Jo Gresens has moved through an impressive range of ever-more-senior executive posts with blue-chip companies since first arriving in Germany in 1982.
The 45-year-old American expatriate is now the highest-ranking woman in the European automotive industry.
'Certainly, as a woman you look different, you act different, you're emotionally different,' she says.
'But the bottom line is performance, and whether or not you can deliver the results.'
In fact, Gresens these days has twice the normal opportunity to deliver bottom-line results. On one hand, she is chief financial officer of Schaeffler group, a DM8 billion (E4 billion) business that comprises INA, a maker of bearings and engine components, and clutch supplier LuK. On the other, she is CEO of INA's biggest business unit, the Automotive Division.
Schaeffler group, a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier, counts DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen among its top 10 OEM customers. It is headquartered in rural Herzogenaurach, near Nurem-berg, Germany.
INA contributes about DM6 billion to Schaeffler group's annual sales. The Automotive Division has annual sales of more than DM3 billion.
Gresens, who joined Schaeffler group in January 1999, says she enjoys working in Germany.
'I appreciate the exactness, the German ability to define things,' she says.
'For example, they have three or four words for control, which we don't have in English. It's fascinating.'
As head of INA's Automotive Division, Gresens has focused on widening the product range to secure new business. At the same time, she is reorganizing Schaeffler group to focus on global growth.
Schaeffler group employs 24,000 in 36 plants around the world, and has begun construction of new factories in North America - its fifth there - and India.
Gresens observes that although automakers are very price-focused, what they really want is a partnership with their suppliers.
'I use that word carefully because it's so often misused,' she says. 'But we do so much upfront development for our customers that it is a give-and-take relationship.'
Sometimes, she acknowledges, it's more one way than the other.
'That give and take varies with time,' she says. 'There will be tough years for our customers where we have to help them, but it can go the other way around too.'
As well as being chief financial officer, Gresens is head of merger and acquisition activity for the parent group. As such, she is attempting to position INA as a complete systems supplier through acquisitions. But she is not a believer in acquisition for the sake of consolidation.
'You have to look at the perspective that your company has within its spectrum of possibilities,' she says. 'You have to make a decision for yourself and not grab onto the current trend.'
A Detroit native, Gresens holds a PhD and MBA in international business and has also studied engineering in the USA and abroad. She started her career with Ford Motor Co. in 1976 as a management trainee in the trim plant at Utica, Michigan, USA.
She stayed with Ford for three years before moving to Volkswagen North America, where she was a supervisor in the central laboratory. She then moved to VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where she was a founding member of the product planning and strategy group.
After a 10-year stint at VW, both in the USA and Germany, Gresens worked briefly for consultants Arthur D. Little in Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
From there she was recruited by supplier A.O. Smith, now part of Tower Automotive, but left to join Lear Corp. as director of corporate strategy and development.
Gresens then joined ITT in a dual role: as head of finance for ITT Automotive Europe and as vice president responsible for finance for the brake and chassis division worldwide.
One of her last tasks at ITT was to sell the electrical business to Valeo and the brake and chassis business to Continental.
Following the spinoff, she accepted an invitation from her former boss at ITT, Jurgen Geissinger, to join INA and the Schaeffler group. Geissinger, as CEO of INA, is Gresen's boss.
Gresens has traveled along her steep career path with her two children, but says: 'It hasn't been easy.'
'When I moved over, there were not a whole lot of working American mothers who didn't speak German in Wolfsburg,' she says. 'But we managed.'
Of her early experiences in Germany, Gresens says: 'It required a lot of flexibility, from me and my family, but I don't regret it. I wouldn't have done it any other way.'