Sue Unger, Chrysler IT Guru

Susan J. Unger joined Chrysler in September 1972 as a financial analyst in Sales and Marketing. She was one of three women management trainees out of 50, and there were no women in Chrysler's management at the time either. She rose to become Executive Director of Information Services at Chrysler, was promoted to Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer for DaimlerChrysler AG in 1998, and was put in charge of Mitsubishi's IT efforts in 2003.

She is currently (2003) responsible for directing systems and computer hardware strategy and planning, systems applications development, data center operations and telecommunications network operations for DaimlerChrysler AG.

A CIO article describes Susan's career, noting that she faced many obstacles as the only woman in her engineering department as a student; she switched to business after repeatedly being harassed by a professor, and was the only woman in that department, too.

In 1977, Susan won an assignment in the Jefferson North Assembly Plant, being the first management woman to work there. She monitored productivity and worked on process improvement in the body in white section of the plant, where raw panels of sheet metal were put into place to form cars' skeletons. She noted that the assembly line workers were honest and not afraid to pull their punches, while managers were somewhat condescending and placed a number of roadblocks in her path.

Her first introduction to IT was in the 1980s, trying to sort out the mess of warranty paperwork, at the time kept entirely on paper, with a requirement for 15 years of tracking imposed by the Federal government, and the need to analyze costs for the 7/70 warranty. She knew she needed the data to be online, designed the interface she wanted, and gave it to the IT people, who said it was impossible to have that much information in a database, let alone analyze it. She needed complicated reports and massive amounts of storage - easy today, very hard in the early 1980s, especially given that Chrysler was short of resources. After being told it could not be done four times, the IT area's Paul Hsu called IBM in, and 18 months later, a new database was installed. The quality information was suddenly available to all engineers and key suppliers (this does explain why it took so long to resolve problems before the mid-1980s!), allowing quality problems to be resolved in nearly half the time, with costs reduced by one quarter.

After this experience, Susan tried for - and got - the IT department's leadership position, and started to sell IT to all the other departments as a way to make information available and make new methods possible. She was a personal ambassador of the department, meeting with people who others could not get contact with. Because she does not have a technical background, she handles the business issues while delegating technical issues to employees - which also avoids micromanagement.

After the merger, Susan was appointed to be the head of corporate IT, and she discovered that the German side of the company, though having many more people on staff, was both decentralized and very much outsourced - in short, incredible inefficient. Because of her belief in delegation, though, she had only insisted on infrastructure to be shared across the corporation, and only e-mail had been fully implemented by June 2003 - but that was down from 16 systems to one. Susan has also implemented a balanced scorecard system in both the US and Germany.

Sources outside of CIO (and not Susan herself) note that Chrysler IT, in the person of Susan, is essentially in charge of DaimlerChrysler IT - one of the few areas where Mercedes is reluctantly (and not without fighting back) ceding to Chrysler.

Her work and academic background includes:

  • Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer, DaimlerChrysler AG, November, 1998
  • Executive Director - Information Services, Chrysler Corporation, November, 1993
  • Finance Director - Product Development and Jeep/Truck Operations, 1993
  • Director - Corporate Financial Analysis, 1991 (Put together a recovery plan for turning around the company.)
  • Various other managerial positions in Finance, 1973 - 1990 (see article)
  • Financial Analyst - Sales & Marketing, 1972
  • M.B.A. - Finance, Wayne State University, 1979
  • B.A. - Economics, Michigan State University, 1972

Born in Detroit, Sue Unger is now a board member of Cyberstate.org and the Eli Broad Board in the College of Business at Michigan State University (Past President). She is also a member of the Research Board; the Kleiner Perkins CIO Strategy Exchange Forum; the Automotive Womenís Alliance; the University of Michigan College of Engineering National Advisory Committee; and the Oakland University Advisory Technology Board. She also recently served on Michigan's Judicial Information Systems Advisory Commission. Unger was named 2002 CIO of the Year by Salomon Smith Barney, named Wayne State University School of Business Administration's "2002 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year," named to the 2002 list of Detroit's Most Influential Women by Crain's Detroit Business, Top 25 eChampions by B2B magazine 2001, and 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry by Automotive News in 2000.

For more information on the programs she led, see the technology page, the digital factory page, and the extended enterprise page.

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