President and CEO, Dodge Car Brand / Senior Vice President, Product Design, Chrysler Group LLC, Detroit, U.S.A. Born: New York, U.S.A.
Ralph Gilles is the President and CEO of the Dodge Car Brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler. He is instrumental in revitalizing the Chrysler brand, leading his team in the design of the hugely popular Chrysler 300.
Born in New York in 1970, Ralph’s Haitian parents emigrated to Montreal, where he was raised. It was there that his creative spark appeared early on. Passionate about cars as a child, he and his brother made a game of trying to guess the names of various cars by listening to their engines. Ralph began drawing concept vehicles by the age of 8 and by the time he was 14, he was so talented at sketching vehicles that his aunt wrote directly to then-Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, saying he should hire her nephew. Lee forwarded Ralph’s work to a design executive, who was so impressed with his sketches that he sent Ralph an encouraging reply letter, recommending three design schools and urging him to hone his raw talent.
Soon afterward, though, the letter was lost. Ralph went on to complete high school and enrolled in engineering at Vanier College in Montreal, but dropped out quickly, not quite sure he wanted to be an engineer after all. Spending his days in a funk, he watched the Dukes of Hazzard reruns and cartoons.
His older brother, upset to see Ralph squandering his talents, recalled the letter from Chrysler and one of its listed schools: Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Insisting that Ralph apply, his family became engaged in the enrolment process so that he could make the application deadline – which was a week away and required 10 sketches. Filled with a new sense of purpose, Ralph met the deadline and was rewarded with an acceptance letter soon afterward.
When Ralph graduated in 1992, he was hired by Chrsyler.
His first assignment was designing small interior details like speedometer needles, but the car enthusiast moved up the ladder quickly. In 2001, at the age of 31, he was named Design Director, and has steadily continued to rise within Chrysler’s ranks. In 2005 he designed the 300, rejuvenating the company amid skyrocketing sales. (The 300 was voted “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend Magazine in 2005, and made Car and Driver magazine’s Top 10 list, three times.) Ralph’s imprint can also be found on the Dodge Magnum (2005), the Dodge Viper (2003, 2005), and the Jeep Liberty (2002).
Ralph enjoys spending time at the track, go-karting and watching Formula 1 auto racing. He has participated in the Targa Newfoundland Rally, and the Car and Driver One Lap of America.
Career: Various positions within Chrysler including, Vice President, Design, Chrysler (2008); Vice President, Jeep/Truck, Color and Trim Studios, and Specialty Vehicles, Chrysler Group, DaimlerChrysler (2006); Director, Truck Exterior/Interior Design Studio (2005); Director, Design Office, Large Car Studio, Family Vehicles (2001); Senior Manager, Design Office, Studio 3 (1999); Manager, Design Office, Jeep Interiors, Chrysler Corporation (1998); Designer, Design Office (1992).
Community: Executive sponsor of the Chrysler African American Network (CAAN); lead role with the Chrysler Global Diversity Council; Board member, Walter P. Chrysler Museum in (Auburn Hills, Michigan) and Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital Regional Medical Center (Pontiac, Michigan); Advisory Board member, College for Creative Studies (CCS) and the School of Industrial Design and on the CCS Capital Committee.
Honours: Including, Michigan State University Eli Broad Graduate School of Management Young Alumni Achievement Award; Automotive Hall of Fame Young Leadership & Excellence Award; NV Magazine Innovation Award; Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award; N’Digo Foundation N’Design Award.
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Industrial Design, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (1992); Executive MBA, Michigan State University (2002).