Product Marketing Director, Chevrolet Midsize and Sports Cars
General Motors Corp., Detroit
One Sunday, 12-year-old Karen Rafferty couldn’t wait for her pastor’s sermon to end. After church, she hurried home to watch her favorite annual event on television: The Daytona 500. “From then on, I was hooked,” Rafferty says.
Since 1987, Rafferty has raced Chevrolet Corvettes, Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds competitively, winning four U.S. national titles in Sports Car Club of America’s Solo II competition and nine trophy positions. Her love of cars opened myriad possibilities at General Motors Corp., where she started as an administrative assistant in 1988 in the Pittsburgh office.
She took advantage of GM’s employee benefits while working full time to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business/communications from Carlow College in Pittsburgh, Pa., and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.
Several managerial positions followed, including Cadillac brand director for 18 months in Shanghai, China, where she led a multicultural team that marketed Cadillac to the entire country. “It was a good education in understanding a market,” Rafferty asserts.
Twenty years later, she is the product and marketing director for the Chevrolet Malibu, Impala, Corvette and Camaro brands.
Being a female “car guy” in the auto industry gives Rafferty an opportunity to meet with customers. “I know they’re asking, ‘what does this female have to say about performance cars?’ But by the end of my presentation, they realize it’s all about the message, not the messenger,” she smiles.
To de-stress, Rafferty kickboxes and jogs at night. In October, she completed her first 26.2-mile marathon in Detroit.
Cynics may compare her loyalty to the automotive industry to the orchestra that played on while the Titanic sank. Rafferty is confident that GM — and the industry as a whole — will rev up again.
“I absolutely enjoy coming to work for GM and I’ve never thought of doing anything else,” she says. “Not a lot of people can say that about their jobs.”