Who Is Running GM in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa? A Woman!
Meet GM's first lady Maureen Kempston Darkes, GM president, GM Latin America, Africa and the Middle East who hosted the world premier of a new GMC crossover named the Terrain during the Dubai Auto Show this week and gave the Middle East their first glimpse of the Chevy Volt electric concept car.
After the press conference we sat down over a cup of coffee to chat about her career and her role with GM and her perspective on women working in the auto industry.
Maureen's calm quiet demeanor belies the grace and composure needed to become the top women at GM and successfully run three regions with 86 countries and 10 time zones. Few women hold such key positions in these parts of the world in any industry, and she has navigated successfully in the male-dominated auto industry where she also sells cars in some countries where women aren't even allowed to drive!
Maureen drives a GMC Acadia, her husband a Pontiac G3,
she commented, "Once the new Chevy Camaro becomes available they will
have to make room in the garage for another car as he will definitely
want the new Camaro for sure!" The Chevy Concept car debuted this week
during the Dubai Motor Show this week amid many ooooohhhhh's and aaaahhhhh's
including mine. I had an opportunity to drive the Camaro concept car recently, it
is a totally awesome ride.
Maureen Kempston Darkes, born in Toronto, Ontario in 1949, has become a role model for aspiring women around the world. Darkes had little notion of advancing to the top levels of GM when she joined the legal staff of GM of Canada in Toronto in 1975. She was 27 years old then, boasting history, political science and law degrees from the University of Toronto – and not about to work for the world’s No. 1 automaker without some thoughts of advancement.
Darkes quickly impressed her peers and bosses with her determination and skills and was promoted to Assistant Counsel of the legal staff in 1979 and named Counsel a year later. By 1981, she was named director of the tax staff, General Director of Public Affairs in 1987, Vice President for Corporate Affairs in 1991, and by 1994 GM of Canada rewarded her with the top post at its Oshawa, Ontario headquarters, President and General Manager. Under her command, the Oshawa facilities became two of the highest-quality plants in the entire GM system. Her lesson from the experience, serving 7 successful years at the helm of GM of Canada, was “to listen very intently to dealers and marketing experts.” By 2001, Maureen Kempston Darkes was appointed Group Vice President and President of GM’s Latin America, Middle East and Africa regions – developing markets – a post she still holds. The recipient of many awards, in 2003 she was ranked the 6th most powerful woman in international business by Forbes Magazine.
Maureen is responsible for founding the women's initiative programs at GM and the GM Women's Council and Affinity Groups. She was honored by the Women's Automotive Association International with a Professional Achievement award for her work supporting, mentoring and leading women in 1997 and was one of the Automotive News 100 Leading Women of the Automotive Industry award recipients in 2005. Maureen has done much to plow the field for young women coming up the ranks at GM and reap the rewards and considers support women and their careers a priority.
Early in her career she faced challenges as a woman but found that her 'results' were the key to overcoming any barriers for advancement at GM. She has been quoted saying, "Constant perseverance. You have to learn how business decisions get made. The reason for that is if you understand how the decision is made, then you can influence it", she planned to be at GM for two years. She has been there 32 years.
Maureen Kempston Darkes says: “I very much believe that corporations need to create an environment where everyone can fully contribute…that we create a culture within the company that no matter how similar or how different you are, you can really contribute to the fullest extent of your abilities. The more the inside of the company looks like the outside world, the better we will be in terms of understanding our customers and creating greater opportunity for everyone in our work force to fully contribute.”
I asked Maureen to share with me the highlight for her of her career and she said, " The big challenges that made me stretch and pushed me further than I thought I could go and meeting these challenges and seeing my personal growth over the years is very rewarding and gratifying."
Maureen and I really see eye to eye on many of the initiatives that are near and dear to my heart, supporting and encouraging women to join us and grow in their careers in the auto industry, energy diversity and environmental concerns. Maureen said: "Throughout the world our growth strategy includes launching new vehicles, expanding into new markets and aggressively pursuing our energy diversity strategy, which, together with advanced technology, can make a real difference in addressing environmental issues."
It's encouraging to know such a woman as Maureen Kempston Darkes is pulling from this top on these important initiatives for many women with such power and influence. She is in definitely in position to really help get our voices heard.
It was an honor and a pleasure to meet her and spend time getting to know her and will be one of the highlights of my trip to Dubai.