Designing a vehicle and getting it to market takes a team of people. Sometimes, from within those teams, there is one person who shines. That is the case with Ralph Gilles. He is a designer that has gone up the ranks of FCA, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. But how much do we really know about him?
How did he get to FCA?
Mr. Gilles was born in New York in 1970. He discovered his talent for sketching cars at a young age. It was a talent he continued to hone through the years. His aunt was so impressed with his drawings that she sent the 14-year-old’s artwork to Lee Iacocca, the head of Chrysler at the time. He then received a response from the head of design at Chrysler, encouraging him to pursue his talent at a design school. So, he eventually enrolled in the Detroit College for Creative Studies design program. After graduating in 1992, he got his first position with Chrysler.
Zero to Hero
After joining Chrysler, Mr. Gilles became part of teams that would go on to design the Chrysler 300C, the Dodge Magnum, the Dodge Charger, the SRT Grand Cherokee, and the SRT Viper. During the development process, he learned that being a designer was not solely about sketching vehicles. He also had to defend those designs from a cost perspective and take into account the legal liabilities of the design. He considers those aspects as part of the noise in the design process. But, he became good at it, and that helped him gain some notoriety within the company. He is now the head of design for FCA.
When asked about advice he would give to young people considering design, Mr. Gilles said that young people should start early by researching companies of interest. Also, he encourages them to find schools geared for design. But his most important point to young people is to dream big.
The best advice he has received
Mr. Gilles was recently asked what the best advice that he has received. He credited his uncle for sound advice.
“When I was 14, my uncle told me to keep my eye on the prize. He meant I could fool around today and struggle the rest of my life, or I could apply myself and be successful for the rest of my life. It meant a lot to me.”
Mr. Gilles has had many successful years with FCA. He is at the point now, however, where in addition to his duties, he also mentors others in their pursuits. Also, he finds that he is increasingly leaving the sketch work to the younger designers who have not been tainted by boundaries or the noise of defending the viability of a product’s design. His mentorship will, no doubt, leave a lasting impression. Let us hope that this means FCA’s newest crop of designers will continue to create designs that are muscular and elegant, yet modern at the same time.