100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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Susan BRENNAN

Vice President, Manufacturing — Smyrna/Decherd • Nissan North America Inc. • Age 48
 
 
 
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Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I had been living in Texas doing breast cancer research and pharmaceutical research. My personality didn't match lab work, so I was looking for something different and exciting. When I transferred with my first husband to southwest Iowa, I came across a large population of automotive suppliers. It was one of those serendipitous events where I picked up the Sunday Des Moines Register on a whim and saw a job opening for environmental and chemical manager in Red Oak, Iowa, at a supplier that made seats for the Chrysler minivan. I applied on a Monday, had an interview on Wednesday. And when I walked in the plant with the plant manager, there was noise, there was energy, there was excitement.

First automotive job: Environmental and chemical manager at Douglas & Lomason Co. in Red Oak, Iowa.

Proudest professional achievement: At that same plant in Iowa, we received the State of Iowa Waste Minimization Award, way back before words like "sustainability" even existed. It was a very small plant compared to what I deal with today. But it taught me early in my career that if you want to do something and you set a goal and a vision and get people to believe in the vision with you, you can accomplish just about anything.

Current challenge at work: The Leaf will be built on an existing production line where multiple vehicles are already built, so there's a technical challenge in doing that and in handling the parts complexity and the difference in timing for the different vehicles going down the line. But there's also a cultural challenge that involves harnessing the energy of the people in the plant. When the world thinks of the Leaf, I want everyone to think of Smyrna as the sustainable plant that built it. That's a big opportunity for a 27-year-old plant.

On tough factory men: The mentors I had in the manufacturing world were sort of rough around the edges and scared a lot of people. And in some cases, it was kind of a bittersweet ending to their career, where they really wanted to mentor and leave a legacy and impart what they had learned. But because of their image, they weren't sought out.

But for whatever reason, because I needed to learn so much, those were the people I latched on to. I had one boss who was very much a family man. All the plant managers would fly into Detroit for meetings, and all the men would go out somewhere I wasn't interested in going. And my boss and I would end up having dinner alone together and talking for hours about how to run a factory. He shared 30 years of experience with me listening and learning.

What you do to relax: I have a 7-year-old and an 11-year-old, and that's my focus when I'm off work. I go to kids' movies. I go to swim meets and baseball games. My son's in Boy Scouts and wants to be an Eagle Scout. My daughter wants to learn to golf, so I take her to the driving range.

— Lindsay Chappell

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