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Elizabeth Griffith

Faurecia

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Director of Engineering, Product Development & Design, GM Global, Faurecia
Auburn Hills, Mich.
Age: 61
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, General Motors Institute

What attracted you to the auto industry? It was an accident. I did not set out to be in automotive. I had a goal of going to the University of Michigan, majoring in music and taking a minor in library science. I had a full scholarship. My older brother was going to GMI. He came home one day in 1971 and told me GM is looking for “smart women” and gave them my name. The next day I was called in for an interview at GM’s Fort Street plant. I was made an offer for a sponsorship right there. That was unheard of. I thought about it. I come from a very poor family. I grew up in inner city Detroit. So it became an issue of music or a career. I talked it over with my mother, and she said, “Do whatever you want to do.”

First automotive job: Industrial engineer doing time and delay studies on the factory floor at Fisher Body in 1977

Big break: My big break was when Jack Smith was GM president. They had moved the component divisions and were setting up Delphi. J.T. Battenberg wanted to get into Eastern Europe. We were working with the Polish government to try and get business. There was a proposal to take on the vehicle made in Poland and have all the divisions of Delphi show what we could do in terms of innovation and retrofit a vehicle. I was selected to head that. We took the vehicle and showed what it would take to bring it in line with Western-made vehicles. We did an automatic liftgate and redid the interior. We had to present to GM executives, including Smith. That was truly a breakthrough.
? What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Patience. I think even today a good thing for people coming up through the ranks is that you have to take the time to learn and be somewhere just long enough to understand it and gain that knowledge so you can take it forward. It has to be embedded, not surface. Luckily in my career I moved jobs every 18 to 24 months.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Bob Dieber, superintendent of process engineering at GM’s Fort Street plant. When I went to work for him, I was scared to death. He was known in the plant as being the toughest, the meanest; he was a perfectionist. But I learned the most from that man. I did terrific things in that environment.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? They need role models. In order to be it, you have to see it. Women need strong role models that reach out and do mentoring and demonstrate what it is possible to do. We need to do this at a very early age. Girls turn off math and science in grade school and junior high. We need an outreach program that keeps their interest in that and shows them the possibilities.

Tell us about your family. My family is terrific. I grew up with three brothers. My mother would have told you I was bossy. Because I pretty much had no girls around me, I was socialized with wolves. And I think that is part of my success; I have been told I am very direct, much like men. I don’t have emotional responses like most women. My husband and I are complete opposites. He’s one of the smartest men I know. He makes me laugh every single day. And he’s incredibly supportive.

What’s your favorite weekend activity? Reading. I am a voracious reader, even with my workload. I try to read four to eight books a week. I love science fiction.

Are you able to maintain friendships? Yes. I make sure that I do. I have people in my life that I have known for more than 50 years, and they are close. I don’t have a lot of them, but you need a select couple to really keep you grounded.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Albert Einstein. I’d like to find out how his mind works, how he came up with so many things. Not only the technical or scientific part, but he got into quite a few metaphysical things, so that whole combination of the physical and the spiritual, that would intrigue me.

What’s your guilty pleasure? This is going to sound strange, but my guilty pleasure is sitting by myself at home with just the cat, not thinking about work. I spend so much time around people; I spend so much time on the phone. And working. When I can just spend time quietly at home doing nothing.

By Richard Truett

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