Plant manager, Pininfarina's plant in Bairo Canavese, Italy
Paola Mensa doesn't give much thought to what it's like to work in an industry dominated by men.
'I don't consider it important,' says Mensa, who runs Pininfarina's assembly plant in Bairo Canavese, Italy, near Turin.
She is a little surprised by what she does for a living. As a girl she had no thought of such a job.
'Absolutely not,' says the soft-spoken but determined 40-year-old mechanical engineer. 'My basic nature is that of a wild creature, I love absolute freedom. But when you decide to go to work, you have to give your best. I would never have thought that a company could understand you and make the best use of you.'
Mensa graduated from Turin Polytechnique in 1990 and joined Pininfarina as a body designer in April 1991.
She later worked in CAD (computer aided design) engineering and eventually ran the prototype department. During her tenure, the department built prototypes for the Peugeot 406 coupe and Lancia Kappa station wagon.
She has been in charge at Bairo Canavese since February 1998. The plant builds the Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin compact sport-utility. Mensa led the team that converted a former car-seat factory into an assembly plant able to turn out 40,000 cars a year.
Mensa's uniqueness is not lost on the family that controls the famous coachbuilder and design house.
'We are very proud to have a woman as a plant manager, something that is very unusual in the car industry,' says Lorenza Pininfarina, the daughter of Chairman Sergio Pininfarina and the company's head of public relations.
Production at Bairo Canavese began in July 1998.
'It was one thing to be assigned to a factory,' says Mensa, 'it is quite another thing to create your own. To decide how to organize an entire production line is a fascinating and alluring challenge.'
There were several problems to solve, not least of which was space.
'We had to make use of an existing structure and could do little to expand it,' she says. 'So we developed a serpentine assembly line.'
Not married, Mensa considers Bairo's employees to be her family. It can be a turbulent family. Personnel turnover had been around 30 percent since production began.
'That seems high, but represents the fairly typical rate in the Canavese area,' she says.
Pininfarina's other plant in this area, in San Giorgo, has the same high rate of turnover.
'In the Canavese area, as opposed to the greater Turin area, for instance, there are lots of young men and women looking for jobs,' she says. 'But they don't want just any job. They are looking for a certain kind of job.'
Mensa appears to be well liked by Bairo Canavese's youthful work force. 'We see her as a kind of older sister,' says one production employee.
Moreover, Mensa likes her people - and has learned to love vehicle production. At the start of her career, she was 'absolutely indifferent to manufacturing.'
'But I have discovered that I really love it,' she says. 'To be a boss takes the right stuff, but when things are well made it is a result of cooperation. At Bairo we started from scratch and what we created, first and foremost, was the daily pleasure of working together as one big team.'