“I think I may have gasoline flowing through my veins.”
Ángela Patricia López, President of Mazda Colombia
In our Zoom chat with Ángela López, Mazda Colombia’s first-ever female president, she talks about her career, her family, and her passion for cars.
What sparked your love of cars?
My father worked in the automotive industry. I remember being very little—maybe six or seven years old—when my dad would take me to launch events for the latest car models here in Colombia. Going to the Bogotá auto show with my father to see the cars—at the time it all seemed to me to be such a wondrous experience. That’s why I say that I inherited my passion for cars from my dad. He would take me to racetracks to see tractor-trailer and touring-car races; it was all so spectacular. And he also really took great joy in driving. We would go on these long road trips; he’d pack us into the family car and drive 18 hours from Bogotá to the coast.
So it’s no mistake then that you ended up working in the car industry.
I actually ended up here by chance. When I completed my degree, my university called me up and told me that I had an interview at CCA with the marketing department. I was told to show up the next day at such-and-such place, and at such-and-such time. I had no idea what CCA was. I told my dad, “I have an interview at this place called CCA.” He gasped and quickly exclaimed, “That is the Colombian Automotive Company. It is Mazda!” He was so happy, so proud. In fact, he was so proud that it’s the only one of my internship interviews he accompanied me on. He went all the way to the front door with me. And it was there that I began my internship with Mazda in 2003.
At that point so early on in your career, you could have chosen to explore other industries. Why do you think Mazda in particular had such an impact on you?
It was love at first sight. My internship was incredibly enriching. In general, students completing internships don’t have much of an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about the company. But my Mazda internship in particular took place during a crucial time for the company, in which the traditional communication strategy changed to that of the Zoom-Zoom generation. We went from the Mazda 323 and 626 to launching the Mazda6. At the time, it was a revolutionary shift. I was there during that transition, and that transition made me fall in love. I realized how exciting it is to build a market for cars—cars generate passion, connection, affinity. It’s rewarding. There are so many stories to tell about a car, about how it was conceived of and produced. I always tell my friends who now work on marketing products like bread or face cream, that though their work is nice enough, those items don’t create devotees; they don’t generate passion. They don’t produce the effect that automobiles can.
You began as an intern and now you are President of Mazda Colombia. That’s quite a trajectory! In fact, you are the first woman to head the office. What role models did you have who showed you that it was possible to achieve such a goal?
The funny thing is that it was never my objective to become president. Rather, I just wanted to give the best of me and find the best opportunities for the company to move forward. As for a role model, the strong leader I’ve always admired is my mom. Her entire life, she’s been a hard worker. When my siblings and I were little children, we were looked after at home by a woman who became like a second mother to us. She lovingly cared for us and handled household tasks, so that my mom could go to work and strive to give us the best education possible. My mother has always been a very strong woman, and very organized. She was always conscious of our savings, always planning our family’s expenses, investments, so that we could all rest easy. The balance she achieved between working and looking out for us, making sure we got ahead and that we had a great quality of life, it’s something I’ve always admired so much.
I can imagine she received a bit of push-back from those around her for making the choice to pursue her career. Though it’s not rare for women today to work outside the home, it must have been considered unusual back in her day.
My father has always told us, “If it weren’t for your mother, there’s no way we’d have all the things we’ve gained.” Though it was difficult back in her day to climb the corporate ladder, Colombia has always been very matriarchal. The women here are of strong character; they make many of the most fundamental and important decisions in their households. So, I believe that, because of this past, in the new generation we have a sense of conviction that we are not weak or different when we come face-to-face with men. We feel totally empowered. At least in my case, I’ve never felt discriminated against, nor have I been made to feel that I’m somehow less able or less valued than any of my colleagues; this treatment, too, can help one feel motivated. Back in my mother’s day, though things would later change and improve for my generation, the women of that time already had a sense of empowerment. They were strong women who had to make important contributions to their households. Even further back than that, my grandmother, for example, worked as a trader. She would buy and sell merchandise across the villages of Colombia.
Colombia’s geography is spectacular, boasting Caribbean and Pacific coast lines, the biodiversity of the Amazon jungle, and a host of mountains taller than 5,000m. Are there any areas in particular that you would recommend exploring by car?
One of the places I most love to visit is Boyacá—it’s about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Bogotá. It’s a place that I have an emotional connection with because I visited the area with my parents frequently when I was a child. Boyacá is a beautiful region with spectacular food. You can find tropical fruits that are little-known beyond our borders, like feijoa, which is like a cross between a cucumber and a guava—it’s a bit strange, but I absolutely love it. We call the Boyacá region Colombia’s “agricultural pantry” because it’s a place where they cultivate crops like potato, cassava, onion. It’s wonderful during a journey through the area to see people harvesting typical local crops on major plantations; it’s also possible to buy their freshly grown products along the roadside. The roads take you through the mountains and past gorgeous lakes.
What car do you drive?
Right now, I have a Mazda CX-30 which I drive mostly for child-related activities; it helps us get our children around town. And my husband, who is very daring, bought himself an MX-5! That’s the family sportscar, which, of course, only has two seats, so I can’t ever ride in it because my kids are always taking turns as passengers. Clearly, my two sons prefer riding with dad, as he drives the sportscar, more than mom. On several occasions, I’ve had to serve as a sort of escort driver, with my husband driving out in front with one of the boys in the MX-5, while I tail him with our other son in the CX-30.
That’s bold! Aren’t you ever tempted to sneak off with the MX-5? Perhaps on a girls’ trip with friends?
My husband has told me that I can obviously take it for a spin. But we’ve only had the car for a month, so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to take it out. But it would be wonderful to go for a drive in it with one of my friends. I’m going to get that plan organized ASAP.
Do you see the glass as half empty or half full?
I’m an optimist. I’m stubborn. For me, keeping my thoughts positive—facing challenges in an optimistic way—is fundamental in achieving any goal. I’ve learned a lot from my children who have minds that are very open to learning. One realizes that one has accumulated a set of assumptions or mental blocks that lead you to believe that you know everything and don’t need to investigate beyond what you think you already know. Allowing oneself to be surprised by the smallest details, that sense of wonder so many of us have lost in adulthood, is a fantastic thing. We’ll be walking past a flower, a tree, and my little ones will stop to say, “Oh Mom! This tree has a mushroom on it. Look at this! It’s amazing!” Those are the details that truly make up the entirety of life, of happiness, and of the charm of living.
Interview by Francheska Melendez / Zoom photo by Fran Monks
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