Originally published February 26, 2016 on autoTRADER.ca
When it comes to car guys, it’s hard to find one with more bona fide credentials than Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) Ralph Gilles.
He’s flown up through the ranks of Chrysler’s hierarchy since first joining in 1992, from being the designer who won international acclaim for his swaggering Chrysler 300 to President and CEO of the SRT Brand and Senior Vice President of Design, and on to his current position as global Head of Design for FCA.
But Gilles isn’t exactly your typical car company executive. When not carving apexes in his Viper ACR, or churning out billowing clouds of burning rubber to delighted crowds at Carlisle, he’s also the guy who famously lit up the Twitter-sphere by telling Donald Trump he was “full of shit” when Trump erroneously tweeted that Jeep was moving its production line to China.
Further cementing our affection for him here at autoTRADER.ca is the fact that Gilles – apart from being a car-nut of the highest order – was raised in Montreal, Canada.
We had a chance to catch up to this busy, former Montrealer at the Canadian International Auto Show.
LW: So, tell us about your experience as a Canadian rising to international leadership in the automotive industry.
RG: [Laughs] I can’t say I’ve thought about it that way going in. I think, as a young man, Detroit seemed… well… we went to Gary, Indiana once and it was like going to the moon, it took forever to get there by car. I think time has shrunken the world – it feels like nothing to go anywhere now to me, so the intimidation is not there. But looking back, yeah, I think starting from a humble high school in Montreal to being here, I never would have… if I could go back in time and talk to myself, I wouldn’t believe myself [laughs]. There’s no way – ‘What are you talking about! Designing for an international company?’
Obviously, Sergio has a great way of giving you many hats, had me get some experience in marketing – and motorsports as well, that was great – but at the same time never gave up planning and design so was on top of my job. Now this job has gotten so big that it’s its own thing. I’m really in a good place and I’m happy. But I never forget my roots, and when I can I answer letters from young and aspiring designers.
I also go to speak at schools (including a Mississauga high school in 2013), so when I tell them to “dream big”, they listen. I came from immigrant parents and there’s no reason I should be here other than through hard work and not giving up.
So I respect that. I don’t think I wear it as anything more than a great experience.
I did this thing called “Failure Lab” where they forced me to talk about a whole part of my life…
(After completing high school, Gilles enrolled in engineering at Vanier College. It wasn’t a good fit. Unhappy, he dropped out and spent the next few months in his parents’ basement, in a self-described funk. Watch the Youtube clip for the whole story.)