PERSON TO PERSON

Want to inspire Lori Queen? Just say no

GM’s Lori Queen: "Don't stand back just because you’re a woman." Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Lori Queen was in the ninth grade when she decided to become an engineer. There was a Eureka! moment: the day a male classmate informed her that girls should not take shop class or study electronics.

That was the wrong message for a kid who loved to tinker and had a knack for math and science. Queen grew up in Dearborn, Mich., and often visited Greenfield Village, the shrine to that great tinkerer Henry Ford.

After graduating from high school in 1974, Queen became a college cooperative student at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Mich., splitting time between the classroom and working with GM research labs.

Queen graduated in 1979 and began to climb GM's corporate ladder. She eventually played a key role in the development of the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice roadsters.

Today Queen is in charge of developing small and mid-sized trucks, including the GMC Envoy, Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Saab 9-7x; the Hummer H3 SUV and H3T pickup; and the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon small trucks.

Name: Lori Queen

Title: Vehicle line executive for small and mid-sized trucks, General Motors

Age: 52

Personal life: Married to Jim Queen, GM's group vice president of global engineering. Seven children, ranging in age from 18 to 35

Lives: Clarkston, Mich.

Works: Warren, Mich.

Education: General Motors Institute (now Kettering University), Flint., Mich., electrical engineering.

Big break: Becoming a chief engineer on GM's full-sized truck in 1996. "There were two of us, and I had the old trucks. It was probably the broadest role I'd ever had, and it really prepared me to be a vehicle line executive in 2001."

When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

Even as a little girl, I was a tinkerer who took stuff apart and put it back together. I was always curious about how things worked. But the biggest thing was when I was in ninth grade and a guy in my class told me I couldn't take shop and electronics because only boys took them. I said: "What do you mean I can't take those classes?"

I had my parents go down to the high school and convince them to let me take those classes. I knew I was going to go to college and become an engineer all because some guy told me I couldn't.

How did you survive as a woman in a male-dominated profession?

I never sit back and stay quiet about anything. I always believed if you were good and doing the right things and were credible, you'd be fine. I was good at math and science, and I liked solving problems.

Do you mentor other women executives?

Yes, and I take that role very, very seriously. There were not very many women as role models, and I've always felt it was important to set standards and norms and to encourage people. The people you develop will fill this company for a long time.

What advice do you give women?

I tell them that their voice is as important as anyone else's. Don't stand back just because you're a woman.

You and your husband, Jim, have intense jobs. How do you balance a marriage and family with all that you have going on professionally?

People call me the calendar girl. I am religiously organized with the calendar. I have to protect it. This year my daughter graduates from college at the end of April, and my son graduates high school in May. I sit down with my administrative assistant and with Jim's to make sure we do the things we have to do for the family. I used to have planners just for the kids.

You'll be empty nesters. How will that feel?

It's time for Jim and Lori to have fun.

We hear that you and Jim have very different tastes in movies.

I like chick flicks. He likes blood, gore and male humor. On the flight back from Geneva recently, I saw Dan In Real Life, and I loved it. It was humorous and light.

Do you and Jim talk shop away from the office?

We have a cottage in northern Michigan, and we have the Zilwaukee Bridge rule. (The bridge spans the Saginaw River about 100 miles north of Detroit.) You can talk about whatever you want and get it off your chest. But once we hit the Zilwaukee Bridge, it's over. What we do every day is so intense that you can't spend your whole life talking about it, so when we're out of here, we have to keep our sanity — and it can't be done by talking about work all the time.

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com

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