European Leading Women
Name: Mouna Sepehri
Title: Executive vice president, office of the CEO; member of the executive committee
Company: Renault
Location: Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Age: 53
Family: Husband; 2 sons ages 21 and 13
Born: Babol, Iran
Nationality: French and Iranian
Languages: French, English, Persian
Education: Post-graduate degreein business law and stock exchange law, Pantheon Assas University, Paris, France; degree in international law and private law, Pantheon Assas University; certificate of aptitude for the legal profession (CAPA) from the Paris bar association

Mouna Sepehri

What attracted you to the auto industry?

Having worked as a lawyer on mergers and acquisitions, I felt the need to give my career a new direction. Automotive products mean a lot to people. They are the stuff of dreams and symbolize freedom. At the same time, the automotive industry is a world of international business, technical innovation, professional diversity and constant evolution of technology and ideas.

The idea of taking part in this dynamic and challenging world was extremely appealing and drove my personal choice.

First automotive job:

After working at a New York-based international law firm, where I specialized in mergers and acquisitions, I decided to join Renault as head of their legal department in 1996. You could say I was somewhat outside my comfort zone.

What was your big break?

That came during my negotiations with our Japanese partner, Nissan, which successfully sealed the alliance agreement. It was a great opportunity and real turning point in my career.

What major challenge have you faced in your career?

Undoubtedly, it was the dialogue with Nissan that eventually brought about the Renault-Nissan alliance. The challenge was to create an unprecedented cross-cultural combination between major car manufacturers. At that time, many people thought that such an alliance was a real gamble and were skeptical about the outcome. But the results have proved otherwise and today I am proud to have played a part in this innovative business agreement. The alliance has helped both Renault and Nissan outperform traditional competitors in their respective countries and has elevated both companies to the top tier of the automobile industry. Together, Renault and Nissan rank among the top four car manufacturers worldwide and there is no doubt now as to the success of this unique partnership.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

My parents because of the way they raised me and the values they imparted. They taught me to be daring and fearless, follow my instincts even if they go against other people's expectations and to never give up. Since my earliest school days I knew that I could achieve what I wanted if I persisted.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry?

We should facilitate the recruitment of women. Then we have to demonstrate that attracting female talent is good for business. The Renault Group is already taking three measures in pursuit of its commitment to gender equality. That includes implementing recruitment ratio targets reflective of the current population in schools and universities. We also support female employees throughout their career through mentoring and internal networking programs. And we ensure equal promotion opportunities through a robust succession planning system. As a leader of the Women@Renault program, I am deeply convinced that empowering women is one of the keys to the group’s performance.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

Spending time with my family and friends. I take a step back from business and recharge my batteries.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing. I sleep well. Otherwise, I think it would be very difficult to keep up the fast pace of this demanding job.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I was a skateboard champion in my youth.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

It would be Nelson Mandela. I would have a lot of questions about his vision, the amazing strength of character that led him to leadership and how he accomplished the dream of bringing about cohesion and unity in his country. This man was brave enough not to give in to feelings of revenge and tenacious enough to change the destiny of an entire society. 

If I had it to do all over again, I would ...

Make the choices I made in my life. If I changed them I would have to do something totally different, such as dedicating myself to helping and protecting refugee children. 

When and where was your last vacation?

I take my holidays in August and usually spend time with my family near the sea. I like to read, relax but also play tennis and swim.

Name one talent you wish you had.

I would love to be able to play the piano. 

Best advice you’ve ever received?

I was raised with solid values: to do what I really liked, to be myself, to be daring, and most of all, to not be afraid of anything. Don’t be a slave to appearances, be yourself, be authentic, don’t fall into the trap of trying to please everybody.

What advice would you give your child?

To be themselves. That means having a successful life rather than a successful career. That means having inner faith and intuition and following their instincts and desires. But they need to study and work hard to achieve their dreams. Values and knowledge are the pillars of individual freedom. Once they have that, nothing and nobody can take it away from them. 

If you were a car, what car would you be?

I would be a Renault Zoe, a zero-emissions car that cares about its surroundings by being environmentally friendly. It’s discrete and offers high performance, taking us toward the future in a responsible way. 

Contact Automotive News