Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I grew up in Michigan. My dad worked in automotive for 25 years, and so did my entire family. I wanted to get away from it and study veterinarian medicine. But I passed out in the operations. I guess I just finally realized that I might as well stop fighting it, so I went into mechanical engineering. My entire life I've been taking things apart and fixing them.

First automotive job: In electrical engineering design at Ford Motor Co. in 1984, creating electric circuit diagrams, fuel pumps, alternators and regulators.

Proudest professional achievement: When I left Ford and came to Nissan in 1989, which was a radical move, I worked on the first Quest/Villager minivan joint venture. Nissan was just starting up, and we were in a temporary building. The whole startup experience with Nissan, developing our own processes and procedures, it felt like we were doing it the way we wanted to do it, not the way things had been done in the past. I did a lot of the engineering feasibility, going back and forth to California, working with the styling studios, working with manufacturing, and then working with engineering to make sure that what the people in California came up with was actually feasible for manufacturing.

Current challenge at work: Over the past year we changed our IT provider, going from a single outsource infrastructure provider to three outsource providers. And in the midst of the economic crisis, we transitioned all of the infrastructure to Mahindra Satyam. And then we cut our budget by 33 percent — all in the midst of a difficult year.

Is the auto industry a difficult environment for female executives? I've never felt disadvantaged as a woman, even in a Japanese company, or even during my time working in the heavy-truck business. When I worked at Nissan in the late 1980s, I would go to Japan, where it was all men. They went out of their way to introduce me to the only woman engineer who existed there. They held special roundtables with other women at that time, administrative assistants or women just starting, and we would discuss why I had stayed on the job after I had had my children. So I think Nissan has always been progressive at wanting to retain women and share experiences and make you feel comfortable.

Dream job: My love is engineering, so it would be something back in product development engineering. I also have a love for technology and startup companies, so you never know what's going to happen.

On learning under fire: I believe everything happens for a reason. I had worked for large companies — Ford, Nissan, General Electric — and during the dot-com era, a lot of people I respected were leaving these companies to become presidents of startups. So I decided I would try it, going to a company called PartMiner as president. I had no safety net.

I remember moving from GE in Louisville to a 500-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. My family stayed behind in Louisville. I had sold my car.

During the whole period, we were collapsing, trying to save money. The venture had a burn rate, and I was trying to get it running before we were out of money in six months. I had a personal burn rate as we tried to sell our house in Louisville. And I kept thinking, "This all has to be for a reason." And I believe it was. I don't think I'd be in charge of IT today had I not started at a dot-com and been exposed to a lot of different technologies, learning to ask the questions, how to mobilize a team and develop a P&L.

What you do to relax: Houseboating on the lake, water skiing, golfing with my sons.

— Lindsay Chappell

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