GKN Driveline Americas
What attracted you to the auto industry? I was born and raised in Oshawa, Ontario, where the primary industry was GM. I was debating between med school and GMI, but I liked GMI because it was a co-op program. I was the master of my own destiny. I could work and go to school at the same time.
First automotive job: I went to GMI, sponsored by GM of Canada. First, we worked on the shop floor. In 1977, I was in the body shop of a car plant running a welder, formerly called a jungle line.
Big break: I left GM to work at Chrysler. The late Dick Dauch, then head of manufacturing, understood he needed to do something about diversity. So Chrysler was actively recruiting women product and manufacturing engineers. It was my big break to go to Chrysler in a manufacturing engineering role, and it was a big change and exciting. My mentors were Dick and Dennis Pawley, former executive vice president of manufacturing at Chrysler. Dennis and I are still friends.
I was with Chrysler for 19 years and left in 2007, when bankruptcy was looming. I got out of automotive and worked for Tyco Electric and Metal Products until 2010. I came back to the auto industry working for Eaton in 2011. I recently took the GKN position.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Somewhere in the 1990s, someone decided to eliminate manufacturing engineering as a function because you can cut a lot of people that way. At Eaton, I was tasked with re-creating the function. That was big challenge.
Working at Chrysler in the union environment was a big challenge. I had to work on building productive relationships, getting everyone to understand who I was in this overall vision that we had for the group.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Dennis Pawley after Dick. Dennis was always willing to talk to me and give me a chance because I wanted to move into nontraditional roles. He created networking bridges that I wouldn’t normally have had access to, which broadened my perspective.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I sit on boards, and we’re concerned about not having enough Americans enrolling in technical fields. Some of the biggest issues are around middle school kids making decisions that are opting them out of technical careers. They aren’t taking base science and math classes. They won’t be able to take a lot of the high-paying and critical jobs in the auto industry. It’s important for educators to make science and math interesting and fun. Manufacturing is not dark, dirty and dangerous. It can be an exciting place.
Tell us about your family. I’m married to the most awesome domestic god ever. My husband of 22 years retired from Chrysler, so I can travel as much as 60 to 70 percent of the time. We have three grown children, three cats and two dogs.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? We live on a small inland lake near Oxford, and in the summer my husband and I like to be out on the pontoon boat. We look at birds and turtles and have the dogs out with us.
Are you able to maintain friendships? Yes. I have been very lucky to have lots of long-standing friendships from my hometown and close friends from undergrad, who are my closest confidantes. I also have new friends I’ve met while raising my girls.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Gloria Steinem
What’s your guilty pleasure? I love to watch “Jeopardy!” and play along and shout out answers to the TV. I also love to read detective and spy novels. Linda Fairstein is a favorite author.
By Marti Benedetti