After about 21/2 years into my college experience, I found that after taking so many credits I could graduate after three years instead of four.
So my father, who was working at Ford at the time — he had almost 40 years at Ford when he retired — encouraged me to see if I could get hired full time at Ford.
First automotive job: Ford Motor Co., programmer analyst in the information technology group in 1986.
Proudest professional achievement: The last five years have been extraordinarily difficult. I don't know the moment within the last year we felt like we had turned the corner. But given everything we have done and everything we fought for, to have our employees feel happy, excited about our future, loving our products and holding their heads up high in their communities with their neighbors just excited, on fire — that's a feeling that's been growing over the last six months inside of Ford.
Of all the years I've been here, there's nothing that pleases me more than having that excitement growing inside of everyone here at Ford.
Current challenge at work: The current challenge is keeping people focused and committed to this path of excellence and profitable growth. You want to resist the urge to take your foot off the pedal. We have to keep everyone engaged and excited and continuing to give their best.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? I don't think that necessarily is the case. I think working on the pipeline will be a challenge for us with everything we need in terms of science, technology, engineering and math. We don't find women as represented in those fields as we'd like. Getting more role models into companies, getting more people that have diverse points of view, different ways of working with people and building teams — we all have different skills and ways of approaching work.
It's important to have good networks and good mentoring circles and good role models and excellent development programs and just be there for each other.
On quiet children: When I was just starting to get into senior positions at Ford, my children were still quite young. We here at Ford have always been on the forefront of things such as diversity in work life and flexibility.
There was a very important meeting that I was invited to attend, and I didn't want to miss it. My son had a gymnastics meet in another state, and they allowed me to call in to the meeting.
I'm in the car, and my husband is driving. This is before we had mute on cell phones. So I'm telling a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old: "Don't touch each other. Don't look at each other. Don't talk to each other. Don't make a sound because mommy has to be on this call for the next two hours." And my children didn't make a noise.
The family has always been there for me to do whatever is required.
What you do to relax: I enjoy traveling with my family. I work hard so we play hard. We usually take at least three really good vacations a year and try to change the scenery, whether it's the Caribbean or Alaska.
— Arlena Sawyers