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MaryAnn Wright

Johnson Controls

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Group Vice President of Engineering and Product Development, Power Solutions, Johnson Controls
Milwaukee
Age: 53
Education: B.A., economics and international business, and M.S., engineering, University of Michigan; MBA, Wayne State University

What attracted you to the auto industry? I grew up in Dearborn, and my dad worked for Ford as an engineer. All my friends’ parents worked there, too. I spent a lot of time there with my dad.

First automotive job: Ford — in the finance department as a warranty analyst. After two weeks, I knew I wanted to go into engineering. I wanted to work on the product.

Big break: I was the launch manager on the 2000 Taurus/Sable. We launched it with a 30 percent better quality rating than the outgoing car. It was a very solid launch. I was the plant manager for Atlanta and Chicago, and my success in the plant positioned me to become chief engineer.

What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I am very passionate, and sometimes that passion can be misinterpreted as impatience. I am working on this and have to be self-aware. I try to let the team come along at their pace in an engaged way and be part of the solution.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Al Kammerer, who was head of product development at Ford. He was a tough boss and challenging. He positioned me to take on bigger challenges. He took chances on me, and I had to learn to get things done.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Spark young girls in STEM and sustain it to retain their interest. We need more structured programs starting in middle school and through high school. Offer programs like engineering camp and robotics.

Tell us about your family. My dad worked at Ford, and my mom was at home. I had two older brothers and a younger sister, a dog and a cat. My parents were college educated, and we were always told we would go to college. My parents taught us environmental responsibility and early recycling. This is also where I got my passion for animals.

Are you able to maintain friendships? Absolutely. I have friends from when I was 3 years old and high school. I have lived several places and have maintained at least one friendship from each city.

What keeps you up at night? Thinking about post-career. I have a lot to offer and want to figure that out. Also, Johnson Controls is on the path of huge growth, and the organization is young. I want a good succession plan, want to keep the team motivated and make sure we have discipline and process.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Henry Ford. I grew up in his town and in his company. I think it would be amazing for him to see the changes — technology changes and how global it is.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Flying to my home in Florida every weekend.

By PJ Eichten

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