School of Business Administration

Fuel for success

icon of a calendarNovember 8, 2019

icon of a pencilBy Rene Wisely

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Fuel for success

Maria Zehnder standing, smiling with arms crossed in business attire in an office
Maria (Fernanda) Zehnder ACC '03 credits her Oakland University business education, combined with her experience as a competitive gymnast, in helping her find her path and rise to the top.

With an accounting degree from Oakland University, experience in competitive gymnastics, and an internal drive to set and achieve challenging goals, Maria (Fernanda) Zehnder, ACC ’03, steered her career to lead finance positions at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

“I always set high goals for myself, even as a young child,” she says. Born in Argentina, Zehnder moved to Michigan at age six when her father, who worked in the automotive industry, was transferred.

“I enjoyed the satisfaction of a challenge, and more so, the feeling of accomplishment when I achieved a goal,” Zehnder says. “I dreamed of leading a team and being in a position where the decisions I made mattered.”

The Right Path

Zehnder credits her Oakland University business education combined with her experience as a competitive gymnast in helping her find her path and rise to the top. “I never would have predicted the path I’ve taken to be in the position I am today,” she says. “However, what I would have told you is that I would have pushed myself to achieve whatever goal I set my mind to.”

Since joining Chrysler Group LLC (now FCA) in 2007, Zehnder held positions in several areas of accounting and finance, including CFO of FCA Canada, before being named Head of Mopar Finance for FCA North America.

At OU, she perfected her time management skills and learned the art of believing in herself. “The OU professors not only taught me the material to earn an accounting degree, they also allowed me to see I was really good at the material I was learning,” she says.

That knowledge, confidence and perseverance paid off. Before Zehnder graduated she had several full-time offers in hand from the then “Big 4” and other regional accounting firms. “It was then that I decided to pursue my CPA license and start my career in public accounting,” she says. She launched her career at Plante Moran in 2003 and earned her CPA certification in 2004.

Serving Inspiration

Today, women account for about 12.6 percent of CFO positions in leading businesses, nearly double the percentage from a decade ago1. That makes Zehnder an influential role model.

“I’ve had several women from FCA -- in the US and Canada -- approach me to share that seeing me in my current position has inspired them to keep pushing themselves to grow professionally,” she says. “This is something that I’m very humbled by and a responsibility that I take very seriously.”

Zehnder’s professional drive not only motivates her FCA peers, but also fuels her to encourage women in the industry to expand their horizons.

12018 Crist | Kolder Associates study

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