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Kathleen Dilworth

General Motors

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Executive Director, Global Powertrain Manufacturing Engineering, General Motors
Pontiac, Mich.
Age: 58
Education: B.S., chemical engineering, University of Notre Dame; MBA, University of Michigan

What attracted you to the auto industry? I grew up in the days of hot-rodding and cruising on Woodward Avenue. That was all part of the mystique, making things as cool as cars. So, growing up in Detroit, I was always interested in cars. The diversity of opportunity that I saw in a company the size of GM. There were all different jobs an engineer could have.

First automotive job: I was first line supervisor in the paint shop at Pontiac in 1979. I had a group of 20 to 25 people and managed the work they did, which was painting bumpers of Grand Ams and Bonnevilles.

Big break: I wanted to be plant manager. When I started in my career, I saw myself as hopefully being a plant manager. I had spent most of my career on the vehicle side of the business. The first opportunity I got was on the powertrain side of the business, and this leader was willing to take a chance on me. He felt you could translate the leadership skills over to a different type of manufacturing. And so I was able to be plant manager. That was in Windsor, Ontario, at the transmission plant. It was a good place to start in powertrain.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? It's balancing the work-family issue and trying to make that right balance and not try to suboptimize one or the other. I think the tools have arrived as time has gone on to make it easier. But also having support of family has really helped.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My dad, to start. And since then various mentors. They have given me advice on switching functions, switching jobs, learning and growing and teaching me areas where I need to improve.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? One thing we need to do is to get more young women, and men as well, interested in engineering careers. In the United States, we are not graduating enough engineers so we need to get to the kids when they are a lot younger. We've got a pretty active team here trying to get into schools to try and get them interested.

Tell us about your family. With two engineers for parents, we ended up with daughters in arts and letters. One daughter is an actor and personal trainer in Los Angeles, and the other daughter works in the theater. My husband retired from GM a year ago; he was a product engineer on the vehicle side, a brake engineer.

What's your favorite weekend activity? Golfing and bike riding

Are you able to maintain friendships? Yeah. It has been a lot easier since the advent of social media. You can keep in touch a lot better than before. I still have several good friends from even junior high and college as well. It's a priority for me.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Pope Francis because he has got a different viewpoint. And I would love to understand if what we are hearing that he says is actually how he feels.

By Richard Truett

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