Gayla Cowie, 35
Director of human resources, Africa, Middle East, India & Europe, Nissan Europe
Family: Husband, Jon; daughter, Ellis, 9 months
Born: Aberdeen, Scotland
Languages: English, basic French
Education: Master’s degree in human resource management, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland; postgraduate diploma in human resource management, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; master’s degree in English literature, University of Glasgow
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I started at Nissan UK's plant in Sunderland in human resources for manufacturing. It was attractive to me because you are exposed to a wider range of HR issues than in other industries. The automotive industry specifically stands out because it's a great product that everyone knows and has a relationship with.
When I moved to Paris to take over regional responsibility for HR, I set up a talent management function. Apart from recruiting the team and putting the organization in place, I had to work closely with the management teams to share the vision and get them to buy in to the whole philosophy of talent management.
Biggest failure and what it taught you?
After working in HR for manufacturing for five or six years, I was asked to move to a head HR role for r&d. The culture was completely different and I underestimated how much I would need to change my style. I learned that you can have completely different cultures within one organization, and what works with one group may not work with another. You need to listen, learn and adapt to be effective.
What is your current challenge at work?
Recruiting in Africa and India. It's a completely different environment to recruit in – less established than Europe, and with different skill sets. I am learning completely new ways of sourcing talent. It's an exciting challenge: an opportunity to adapt and to think differently.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
The product development life cycle is quite long in the automotive industry, but consumers' views on car ownership are changing quickly. Attitudes toward mobility and car ownership, for example, are dramatically different from 20 – or even 10 – years ago.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Get to know your team well, and when you are sure you can trust them, rely on them 100 percent. Also, be authentic – be yourself in your job and do what comes naturally.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
I would encourage them to go for it! It's a fantastic industry. It's something that has an impact on everyone's life and has a big part to play in society. And because the industry is so huge, there are opportunities to do anything, in any country, if you join a global player such as Nissan.
If you were CEO of a company what would you do first?
Look at the talent and skill sets in the team to make sure that the right people are in the right jobs.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
To have a global role with HR responsibility where I could support the overall development of the organization, influence the strategy, and enhance the brand. I would like to be able to contribute to the image of the brand externally.
What do you do to relax?
Spend time with my young daughter and enjoy the experiences of life in France.
Ford Fiesta. It was about 15 years old and needed constant attention to keep it running.
2011-present: Director of human resources, talent management, learning & development, & diversity, AMIE region, Nissan, Paris, France
2010-2011: HR manager, AMIE region, Nissan, Paris
2009-2010: HR manager, UK strategy & planning, Nissan UK, Sunderland, England
2007-2009: HR manager, R&D, design, Europe, Nissan UK, Cranfield, England
2005-2007: Senior personnel controller – strategy & planning, Nissan UK, Sunderland
2004-2005: Personnel controller – strategy & planning, Nissan UK, Sunderland
2001-2004: Personnel controller – employee relations & recruitment, Nissan UK, Sunderland
May-August 2001: HR graduate, Polaroid (UK), Dumbarton, England
January-April 2001: Placement student, Ernst & Young, Glasgow, Scotland
June-December 2000: Assessor, recruiter, TMP Worldwide, Glasgow