What attracted you to the auto industry? The opportunity to work with a broad number of people, and the opportunity to work in mobility. We make products that provide people mobility, and to me mobility is freedom.
First automotive job: In high school I took a vocational education program that was four hours a day. I was the first female at my school to be enrolled in the program, and when I graduated high school I was certified as a technician in engine and transmission repair, diagnostics and rebuilding. That was at Dexter High School in Dexter, Mich.
Big break: It was when I was offered my first international assignment. I was the assistant plant manager in Luton, England. It gave me that vision of GM as a really big company with lots of opportunities.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? A main theme I’ve faced is that the automotive industry is cyclical — it has big ups and big downs. I’ve learned to be helpful in steering people through the upsides and the downsides, but it can be difficult. I’m the one who tells people “we will get through this” either as a plant or as a company. Helping people manage that emotion and stay focused on the things we can control is the most consistent challenge.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? There have been many great leaders and mentors and team members — but I have to say it’s been my children. They have been strong enough to support me and allowed me to say “yes,” even when it was difficult. When I went to England, we decided to do a split family situation. I took the two youngest with me and the older ones stayed behind with their dad to finish high school and college. When I look at what my children were able to help me say “yes” to, that has been the biggest influence on my career.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We’re getting some traction but I think we need to accelerate the conversation. We’re doing a lot of work promoting STEM but there are so many facets of the industry. There’s forecasting, finance, communications — just so many ways to participate. This conversation needs to be coupled with STEM promotion. Also, the industry on the outside doesn’t appear to be aspirational — other industries seem to be more lucrative. That won’t help us get young people in general, man or woman.
Tell us about your family. I have four children. The two older ones have successful young families of their own. The two youngest are in college in Michigan. I also have a wonderful boyfriend and brothers and a mother all in Michigan as well. My dad was at General Motors in communications and public relations. Just a few years after he retired, he passed away, unfortunately. But I’d like to think he would be really proud of where the industry is now and really proud of how far I’ve come.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I like to work on things and either build or grow things, but I would have to say of all my hobbies, gardening is the most therapeutic.
If I had it to do all over again, I’d ... I’ve really been fortunate, so I’m not sure I’d do anything over again. Being able to say “yes” when I needed to meant a lot in my career. No regrets.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten? Don’t say “no” too soon. When the idea of going to England came up, it was presented to me as “Teri, I’m going to offer you something and I don’t want you to say ‘no’ too soon.” And so as I said, I thought deeply about it and found a way to say “yes” and it ended up being huge for me. It’s important to keep an open mind and give career decisions some thoughtful consideration.
By Nora Naughton