The Driven Interview: Chrysler President and CEO Olivier Francois

Recently, Chrysler held a big event in the San Francisco area showing of a slew of new and improved vehicles. Day one was spent with the Dodge folks, who showcased the new 2011 Charger and Durango.  To say these are much improved is an understatement.  The only problem they will have is getting shoppers to understand what they did take a look.

Day two was spent with the Chrysler side of things.  At lunch I was fortunate to talk  with President and CEO Olivier Francois.  That’s just one of his hats, he also holds the same title at Lancia, a premium Fiat brand.  If that’s not enough he’s responsible for the marketing of Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep.  It gets better, he does the same for Fiat in Italy.  Surprisingly, I did not see a Starbucks IV line in his arm.

This is a man who has more frequent flyer miles than he could probably ever use.  His watch rotates so he knows the time in Michigan and Italy.  He has two different cell phones, to remind him of which country he’s in.  In his spare time he brought attention to the plight of the Myanmar dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who was recently just released.

I assumed our talk would be the normal five minute chat that I would sprinkle into my upcoming piece featuring the Chrysler Town & Country and 200.  The interview grew to 25 minutes.  I can’t use it all in the review but thought Driven regulars might find the session interesting.  I found him passionate, candid and enthusiastic about his many responsibilities.

The talk is trimmed for time and a few disruptions that happened during our chat but the 18 minutes should give you a good idea of how Mr.Francois sees Chrysler, and the plans he has for the brand.  In the coming weeks I will have a story about the redone Town & Country.

4 Comments

  1. fireworks says:

    Hi, very interesting! I don’t suppose you found out what he does to manage his time? The cell phone is a hint, but he must have some kind of system to handle that kind of load.

    • TV says:

      One of the things he does is trust those who work for him. Many of the people working at Chrysler are putting in 6 days a week minimum, some only took a handful days off all year to get these newer cars out. It’s a lot easier to do a good job if you have good people. Free of Cerberus and Daimler, many of the Chrysler engineers I talk to have a kind of entrepreneurial attitude and a feeling they have something to prove.

      It’s a little too early to give Mr. Francois a grade but there’s no doubt he’s trying. Between him and Ralph Giles it seems like they are in very good hands. Both seem to be very straight shooters and have no tolerance for BS.

  2. crash says:

    Wow…what a great interview!

    I like their humble approach – and recognition that they need to earn back consumer trust. I’d mentioned it before – more so w/ the Charger then the 200 – however i have to wonder what this group can pull off w/ a proper development timeline, not going through Chapter 11 and some decent R&D money.

    That said, while I’m impressed w/ the appearance of the 200 – I don’t see myself driving one. I’m still not sold on that roof life / C pillar. I DO think they’re going to sell a LOT more of these then they did Seebring – and if the quality is backed up, they have enormous potential for the next gen 200 (which is, hopefully a mirror image of the concept car).

    This in mind, Tom, what are your ‘publishable’ impressions of the 200? How was the interior? How was the handling? It’s easy to say ‘better then the Seebring’ – b/c anything would be…but how does it compare to Fusion / Malibu / etc?

    As always a great interview Tom! Love the site!!

    To all the ‘silent lurkers’…come on – lets get some posts going here!!

    • TV says:

      My impressions of 200? The interior is MUCH nicer and the handling is improved. I see it more like the Malibu, more comfortable than sporty (but not floaty by any means). The back end does a lot to help the car visually (it’s best angle) It’s a big improvement but I’m going to guess that buyers will only see it as cosmetic. Perception is more important than reality in this biz. That said, I came away impressed what this company did in a very short amount of time. I’m looking forward to more of their all-new stuff.

      Glad you liked the interview> i thought people would find it enlightening. Very interesting guy.