What attracted you to the auto industry? My husband is in academic medicine and dragged me from Boston to Michigan. When I got here, I joined another private law firm. I frankly was bored to tears with the level of practice, the complexity, the difficulty and everything else. Plus, if youíre in Detroit, youíre in the auto industry. So when I had the opportunity to take the position at Delphi Automotive, I jumped at it.
First automotive job: Senior counsel at Delphi Automotive in 2002
Big break: Any time an organization goes through a dramatic upheaval or change, which at Delphi was an accounting investigation and then going down into bankruptcy, if Iím given the opportunity, I tend to handle the crisis or change well. So my big break was working at Delphi through its change and taking it through bankruptcy. When I joined what is now FCA, I was able to fully apply my Delphi experience to the opportunity I was given here, managing through the changes that achieved the unity of ownership and now moving to fully integrate [Fiat and Chrysler], including a global legal staff.
What is the major challenge youíve faced in your career? Building a cohesive team that can operate without you was my biggest challenge. All the roles I had before Chrysler were roles where I knew I could do the work and do an excellent job. When I first came to this team, it was as a head of a group of the office of general counsel, not as head of the whole office of general counsel. It was the first time I had to manage a group of individuals, and it was after the office of general counsel had just emerged out of bankruptcy and was very fractious. Shifting to that role of not taking care of everything yourself, effectively delegating but providing the right level of guidance, and getting a group that was very bright, highly educated to cooperate with each other was a big challenge. Itís the greatest gratification when you get the best out of people and get their best work.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My parents gave me the tools for what I needed to succeed and gave me the support that I needed. They gave me the strength of moral character and the opportunity for an education. My dad was a corporate lawyer and headed a law firm. My mom was a social worker. She was one of the first women to go back for a graduate degree after raising children in the í70s. Most wives of upper-middle-class law firm partners didnít do that, but she went back and forged her own career.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Women still think about work-life balance and start making choices based on what they think is going to happen. And when they see more women up at the top of the table, they figure, ďThey must have figured it out, so I can, too.Ē
Iíve seen younger women start worrying about their work-life balance when theyíre a senior in college and picking their career when theyíre not married, they donít have kids, they donít know whatís going to be there. Women tend to do that more than men. We tend to plan ahead and plan ahead and plan ahead. Thatís exactly the wrong approach. Donít make choices and close off avenues until you have to. Women take themselves out of the running when they donít see role models. Now we have to try to retain the women we have. The fact that the auto industry keeps changing makes it the reason you should be here. I havenít been bored yet.
Tell us about your family. I have two girls. Theyíre twins but not identical. My husband and I are now completely empty nesters. Theyíre seniors at Wellesley College and Bates College. My husband works also a very busy, busy job. We now spoil our two cats and our one dog because we donít have kids at home.
Whatís your favorite weekend activity? If itís not traveling somewhere, itís just walking the dog with my husband, to the beach especially. We have an apartment in Chicago where my husband works, so weíre right on the lakeshore. I like the city, so I usually commute back and forth on the weekends.
Are you able to maintain friendships? Oh, yeah. We entertain a lot, too. I exercise because my husband is a gourmet cook, and I have to be able to eat. The first purchase in any new home is always a large dining room table so you can have company.
Best advice youíve ever gotten? Always do everything right and finish it and do it well, but do it your way. Donít change the core of who you are and what your principles, ethics and guidelines are for any reason. Stand your ground. Do it politely, do it tactfully, but stand your ground.
By Hannah Lutz