A Rarity in Auto World

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To get into Toyota's training program in 1976, Frances Oda set up an appointment with a recruiter visiting Claremont (Calif.) Men's College.

That meeting started Ms. Oda's career in the auto marketing business. Today, she's VP-marketing services at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, giving her one of the highest profile positions for a woman in auto marketing. Responsible for all marketing including advertising, promotion and events, Ms. Oda has succeeded in a male-dominated industry.

Ms. Oda, 41, credits Mitsubishi and its long-time exec VP, Richard Recchia, for taking a lead in the car business to open opportunities for female executives. Three of the auto marketer's 10 VPs are women, as are 11 of 13 staffers in marketing services.

(Ironically, Mitsubishi's separate U.S. car manufacturing arm has been in the headlines for charges of female sexual harassment.)

At Mitsubishi, Ms. Oda was a driving force behind the new "Built for living" campaign. She also has played a key role in the success of Mitsubishi's sporty Eclipse.

Ms. Oda joined Mitsubishi as national manager of advertising in 1985, just three years after the brand arrived in the U.S.

That put her back behind the wheel after a stint in retailing, with Marshall Field & Co. and Neiman-Marcus. Before that, Ms. Oda spent four years at Toyota, which she joined straight out of Scripps College in Claremont.

Ms. Oda recognizes the risk of being stereotyped on the job if she raises a "female" viewpoint, but she figures that's one of the values she brings to the post.

"I really feel comfortable telling people what I think the perspective of a woman should be," Ms. Oda says.

She's not alone: Half of Mitsubishi's customers are women.

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