I selected Ford because at the time automotive electronics was moving from $200 content in a vehicle to $600 to $1,000 to $1,200 in a five-year period. Auto electronics were now taking over engine controls and vehicle controls and moving much beyond. It was just a great area. And looking at various companies, it was a young, dynamic team. When you get out of school, you look at who are you going to work with, and not only is it going to be challenging work, but is it going to be a fun environment. And I came to Ford. Haven't regretted it.
First automotive job: Audio engineer for Ford in 1982. I was working on circuits for radios. I actually designed
a music search feature for cassette tapes so you could jump forward and get to the next song.
Proudest professional achievement: The T-Bird, the 2002
Thunderbird. What made me particularly proud about that was the whole character and feel of the team, the fun the team had doing the vehicle, and then the enjoyment that the customers have received. The customers came back and said we met their needs. To this day, I still receive notes from customers saying, "I love my car." They send me notes about the journeys that they take — the Highway 1 journey, the "I went across the country" journey — and they send me photos. A number of folks from that team went on to higher leadership roles.
Current challenge at work: Helping the company to train and do well in the marathon race toward electrification. I phrase it that way because this is a 50-year journey that we're on to bring an entire other fuel source, electrification, especially with plugging in the vehicles, and to transition the technology there, the supply base there, but also the consumers, the utilities.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? It certainly has historically been. Part of it is if you sit in a room and you're the only woman, that in and of itself is challenging. This has changed a lot, but when I joined the company, wow, there weren't that many women in the industry. I think there's also a history of companies that were very personality-led, or top-down, and how women navigate in that environment has changed tremendously. I look at Ford today and, my goodness, I now sit in meetings and the key decision-makers, or those guiding and influencing the key decisions, are women. That's a huge shift. It's moving fairly rapidly, but I'm not unrealistic. There are still challenges. And in the auto industry, you must have a passion for cars, and by the nature of that, I think more guys are car geeks than gals.
How has the recession affected opportunities and the work environment for women in the industry? Many of the women were in the electronics area, electrical engineering, marketing or the business area, or finance — these are portable skills. If you had done core engine design forever or core transmission design or the vehicle dynamics, that is very automotive-specific. You would have to decide to switch industries, whereas some of the other skills are more portable to other industries. So I think that it wasn't so much that the recession pushed people out, but because of where women are today in the companies, their skills are more portable.
Dream job: One that makes a difference. The great news is that the one I'm doing right now does and has the opportunity to continue to make a very big difference.
On skirt days: One of the things being a woman in the industry that I have to consciously think about, which I'm not sure all industries require, is: "Is this a day when I can wear a skirt or not?" It all started back when I was the chief engineer for heavy truck, and I had just been appointed. This is back when Ford owned the Louisville Aeromax line — these are the over-the-road, Class 8 and up vehicles.
First day on the job, I normally wore pants, but that day I wore a skirt, and the guys wanted me to go up and evaluate the brand new tilt-telescoping steering wheel on the Aeromax, which is about eight feet in the air, and you climb up the ladder. Here are all these guys who are going to work for me, and you come out and see the truck and go, "Heels and a skirt — bad day!" You climb up the ladder, and all the guys are like, "Oh my God, what do we look at, what do we do, while Nancy climbs into this thing?" It may sound ridiculous, but it's how to be a woman and be feminine and recognize at times you're doing test evaluations and other situations, finding that balance. You have to be who you are and be comfortable. And then sometimes things happen.
What you do to relax: Music, horses, spend time with the family, walk the dog.
— Dave Guilford