Sometimes 58-year-old Linda Jackson, chief executive of Citroen, likes going mystery shopping at garages to observe how her firm’s rivals sell their cars.
Often the salesmen ignore her. If she’s lucky they talk to her – rather, talk down to her, and act patronizing.
“You do learn a lot about how the customer is treated. Sometimes you go into a showroom with your husband and they just turn to your male partner and say, 'how would you like to spend your money?'”
Jackson, who became CEO of the French car giant three years ago, says sexism is still prevalent in the traditionally male-dominated car industry despite recent gains.
For instance, the idea of a woman at her job would have been unthinkable a decade ago. “When I told people I was in the car industry they used to think I was a mechanic,” she said.
Earlier this year, she was named most influential Briton in the global car industry, topping a survey of 50 leading UK male and female car executives operating at home and abroad. This was the first time a female executive has taken the top spot.
Her performance speaks for itself. Last year Citroen sold 87,000 cars and vans in the UK and cornered around 2.8 per cent of the market. It recorded the highest sales volume for five years in 2016 across Europe, and in the same year sold 1.2million Citroën vehicles worldwide.
Despite these, car companies should have a different mindset about women. “This is what we need to change. We want to make it easier for anyone to buy a car,” she told The Daily Mail at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
“When women go into a dealership, they want to touch, feel and drive the car,” she said.
Falling in love
Certainly Jackson, who is from Coventry, did not start out as a mechanic. She began her career at Rover stapling invoices -- part of a holiday job.
While there she fell in love with cars and turned down a place to study teaching at Sussex Univeristy to stay on as an accounting clerk at the firm. In a decade she was finance director of Rover in France.
It was also here she met her husband David, who became her unofficial research assistant.
He died of cancer in 2014, months after she started as CEO at Citroen. “He still inspires me to go on. When I have little successes I say, ‘thank you.’”
“You either go on or you stay strong and survive. I had to rebuild my life…It's a lonely time – but it's lonely at the top anyway,” she said.
Causing a stir
Jackson lives in Paris and has a house in Normandy. She has three grandchildren from her step-children, and is also a qualified ballet teacher.
Her appointment at the helm of a French company initially caused a stir. Her colleagues were “mystified by tea-drinking,” while she despaired of the French’s timekeeping. Now both sides have adapted, she says.
By bringing her Anglo-Saxon approach to work, Jackson has been credited with starting a French Revolution at Citroen.
“Being a woman, providing you do a great job everyone remembers you.”