As a child, Juliana Coelho liked numbers. For this reason, she decided to study engineering. She chose a specialization in chemistry because she knew that an engineer’s chances of launching a career in the state of Pernambuco were limited to the petrochemical complex. But when she reached the end of her penultimate year of college, in 2010, a new event emerged, which would later diversify the region’s economic activity and completely change the professional trajectory imagined by the young woman. In December of that year, Fiat announced the construction of a factory in Pernambuco.
Today, the 32-year-old engineer is traveling through Europe to visit some of the 92 factories that make up Stellantis, a company that was born a year ago from the merger between the brands of the Fiat, Chrysler, Peugeot, and Citroën groups. Ms. Coelho just took over one of the most important positions in the manufacturing area of the new super automaker. She is the new world head of the so-called Stellantis production way, which will extract the best from the methods that each of these brands has developed to manufacture vehicles throughout centuries-old histories.
The executive is in Paris and had just finished a French class (a language she is learning during her trip) when she gave an online interview to Valor. The French capital could be one of the alternatives for the new address of the engineer born in Olinda. She is still studying the best housing location for her and her husband, a fitness trainer also from Pernambuco, to whom she has been married for two and a half years.
Europe tends to be a strategic point both for traveling between the assembly lines spread across the continents and for the proximity to the company’s global management, which is currently working intensively to fine-tune the synergies between the brands. The housing issue does not seem to concern her at a time when the pandemic has taught us lessons about, as she cites, working in the “nowhere office”.
Nine years have passed since the engineer, then recently graduated from the Catholic University of Pernambuco, was selected as a trainee to work at the factory that Fiat was starting to build in Goiana, 64 kilometers from Recife and a little less from Olinda. In the last three years, her professional career took a turn, in parallel with the revolution that involved the company that hired her.
In 2018, Fiat announced the acquisition of Chrysler. With the union, Goiana, a city selected by the Italians after the federal government extended tax incentives in the Northeast and Central-West regions, would be chosen to house a modern factory of the Jeep line. And more recently, the union with Peugeot gave rise to Stellantis.
Aware of the dream that her granddaughter began to cherish since it became known that an automaker would go to Pernambuco, Miriam, maternal grandmother of the recent graduate, kept an eye on the news widely publicized in the local press about hiring. “Looks like they’ve already called a group. Are you not on the list?” Yes, she was. She and 39 other newly graduated engineers formed the first group of trainees at the first vehicle factory in Pernambuco.
But there was no factory to train in the immense land, where there was once a sugarcane plantation, which was turned into a construction site when the engineers arrived. The trainee group was then sent to Italy and Serbia to learn in the factories there. The dream of the young woman who always liked cars came true. The interest in automobiles arose because an uncle had a rental company and offered the fleet for relatives to ride. In the Coelho family, there are no other engineers. Her father, now deceased, worked in administration. Her mother is a physical therapist. One of the two brothers – both younger than her – is studying business administration in Portugal and the other, a nutritionist, lives in Olinda.
Upon returning from the European factories, Ms. Coelho was ready to start work. Her training in chemistry directed her to the area of car painting. She started in the technical area. But curiosity, willingness to learn, and also to pass on lessons learned ended up involving her in the area of hiring personnel. Naturally, she became an area leader and a supervisor.
At that moment, she began to realize that other Pernambuco workers, candidates who, like her, would have their first job in a factory there, and that none, like her, knew what it was like to produce cars, could learn quickly. “Opportunities can arise not only for those who have experience, but for those who are willing to learn”, she highlights.
Those who knocked on Fiat’s door came from very different backgrounds. They were shellfish gatherers, fishermen, sugar-cane cutters. And, among them, some even with skills that, curiously, are useful in an automaker. Ms. Coelho cites the example of those who had already worked as artisans. “Just like in crafts, controlling the seals of a bodywork also requires skill with the hands”, she says.
Over time, the Goiana factory needed to be expanded. At the same time, Ms. Coelho was building an ascending career in the company. From painting, where she rose to the position of supervisor, she moved on to the assembly line, where she took over management four years after she started working for the company. With the industrial expansion, the engineer also continued to be involved in people management, the hiring process and, as she says, “learning and passing on” acquired knowledge.
In March 2018, the company where Ms. Coelho works, which at the time was just Fiat Chrysler, announced that the Goiana plant would start operating 24 hours a day, with three production shifts. The news was received with celebration, with the presence of the then-president Michel Temer, who brought the company even better news: the extension, for five years, of the special tax regime for factories in the automotive sector installed in the Northeast region. The benefit had already been extended in 2009.
Since then, the controversy that has always existed around tax incentives for automakers in the North, Northeast, and Central-West regions has intensified. Companies with factories outside these regions have bolstered lobbying with politicians, with complaints that they would lose out in competition with companies enjoying tax breaks. On the other hand, the groups installed in these regions have always argued the need for incentives to offset the cost of logistics that involves transporting parts from the South and Southeast and, on the other hand, cars ready for these markets.
Ms. Coelho defends ways to guarantee development for these regions. She says that other countries stimulate, through incentives, regions where the industry is not so present. “Decentralization is fundamental. We need to get rid of the geographic map that boils down to three or four states,” she highlights.
“See what that factory was (in Goiana) and what it will be; it is necessary to invest not only where there is already development,” says the engineer who declares – and in fact, proves – to be very calm. The new professional challenge has taken more time, which she finds natural. “At work, I tend to do my best,” she says. But, in general, the executive manages to balance professional and personal life. “On Sundays, I usually go to my grandmother’s house, stay with my husband and the whole family, go to church.”
The first experience away from home, from her grandmother, mother, brother, and Olinda, was in November 2018. Ms. Coelho was transferred to Betim, in the state of Minas Gerais, to assume the position of chief engineer for Fiat Chrysler manufacturing throughout Latin America. She and her husband moved to Belo Horizonte, where they lived until July 2020. The new position helped her not only see the cars produced but the entire company.
A new promotion, however, took her back to her homeland. Ms. Coelho was assigned to direct the entire factory, which at that time was practically the same size as it is today, with 13,500 employees and 16 suppliers within the industrial park. She was the first woman to assume this role in the company.
But, when she arrived, there was no one. It was at the beginning of the pandemic. A period when virtually all automakers had laid off employees, who would only return to work after companies organized factories to ensure distancing and safeguard measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Of course, she already knew she wouldn’t find workers. But, after seven years of direct work on assembly lines, the feeling of emptiness was unsettling. However, the pandemic also left good lessons for those who always live in the crowd. “We learn to connect with people, to listen to them in a moment of learning and a lot of responsibility. It is in difficult times that we see the qualities of people.”
A little over two months ago, she began to undergo discreet interviews at the company. Questions suggested that she was undergoing a secret selection. “I imagined that all of that was for a new job opportunity at the company, but I wasn’t sure what it was”, she says. She does not know which or how many candidates were in the running. Upon being asked to take charge of Stellantis’s new production system, she understood why she had been interviewed.
Each of the automaker’s brands has, over decades, developed its own means of producing vehicles. From the best each one offers, Stellantis’ own model will be built. The Brazilian executive will lead this process, which also involves the synergies the company’s global management has pursued since the first day of the company’s creation. In her new position, Ms. Coelho says she will always be very close to the group’s factories around the world, establishing a new methodology based on the application of the best methods adopted until today by the two groups.
Stellantis’ global meetings are usually conducted in English, a language she speaks. But in conversations with Carlos Tavares, the company’s global CEO, she will always have the chance to practice her native language. Mr. Tavares was born in Portugal.
Being part of the improvement of gender diversity in an industry that has historically been an essentially male environment is something that delights the engineer. She says she has never felt prejudice. She believes that it is necessary to encourage women to work in sectors where, sometimes, they themselves do not believe they will adapt. “This opportunity is fantastic; the diverse, the portrait of society, already appears in our meetings”, she says.
Ms. Coelho is also interested in monitoring studies and research that point out global trends in mobility. She recognizes that a lot has changed since owning a car was one of the most important achievements for a young person. Even so, she believes that interest in cars persists and will continue. On this trip to France, the changes in mobility and the offer of means of transport, in Paris especially, caught her attention. But, not for that reason, to her delight, the cars lost prominence. “In Paris, you take a car if you want and the city is still full of them,” she says.
For her, “the plurality of mobility”, on the other hand, gains importance. This is the case, for example, of the shared use of vehicles, as a service. “People will continue to like the cars, even if not just through owning them,” she says. What matters in this context, she says, is that the industry continues to pursue environmental goals. “The zero-carbon challenge is fundamental”, she emphasizes.
The return of the new Stellantis global executive to Brazil is scheduled for next Monday. This time, probably for a little while. The new role will certainly require continental travel. But Olinda and Goiana will remain there, as witnesses that the automobile industry can always be surprised to find hidden talents in lands where until a few years ago no one knew how to manufacture a car.
Source: Valor international