"I'd gone to school, gotten all my engineering degrees and worked for years and was viewed as high potential by Ford," says Levine, 40. "But my family is crucial to me. I talked to my dad, and I said: 'I don't know what to do. I have to find the right balance or I won't be happy.' So this is huge to me."
The women met when Levine's boss, who knew Rocco, set up what the two jokingly call a "blind date."
"I remember meeting her with my big belly at a local restaurant," says Rocco, 38. "She showed up with her 9-month-old daughter. We sat down and had lunch."
Both had initial trepidations.
"I am pretty particular," Levine says. "I'm not sure if a blind date would have worked with anyone, even with my husband. But I said OK."
They also knew they'd have to take a 20 percent pay cut to share a job because it's considered 80 percent of full-time. They each earn 80 percent of their full-time salaries and benefits. Adds Rocco: "I never could get over: How am I going to share a job?"
Rocco and Levine supervise 10 people. They are responsible for coordinating engineering, marketing and manufacturing of the Explorer to ensure it is launched on time this winter.
Rocco works Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Levine works Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Both work about 40 hours a week each, which is part-time in the Detroit engineer's world of long days and rapid-fire deadlines. "I laugh that is part-time because we each work 40 hours a week," Levine says. "But we'd normally have a job that would require 80 hours a week."
The women take steps to ensure their arrangement is seamless to others. "The nights before we work, we do a phone call at 9:15 p.m.," Rocco says. "I'll call Julie, and she'll say, 'Let me take you through everything.' She'll talk to me until 10:30 or so. She'll take me through the key points and the actual next steps that need to happen."
Rocco says she arrives the next morning with a list of what to do next.
"We found we have a very similar work ethic," Levine says. "We do have different personalities, but that's OK because the trust is there."
Their personalities differ, but Levine and Rocco are in sync. The women's voices sound almost the same, and often, like a long-married couple, they complete each other's sentences.
"We don't always use the same method to get to the same conclusions, but we do get to the same conclusions," Levine says. "I'm probably more direct and blunt than Julie is, but she's more persistent than I am. Our radar goes off at the same time as to whether we should trust something or go deeper. But the way we ask questions to go deeper is different because we're two different human beings."
Says Ford spokesman Jay Ward: "I talked to these guys on a daily basis. At no point in all that time have I talked to one Julie and gotten a different answer from the other Julie. The next day a different Julie could be working and know what I asked for, and it'll be delivered. It's really quite astonishing."
Executive recruiters see a slowly growing trend as more companies offer job sharing and flexible hours, says Bo Herbst, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles in Chicago.
Generation X and Y workers tend to value free time, Herbst says. He says the recession has meant a lot of companies can't offer lavish bonuses and other financial perks to retain talent. To be creative, they must offer other amenities, such as flexible schedules.
Herbst says job sharing is one thing they can do. "If you can develop a reputation in the marketplace as having a family-friendly atmosphere, it helps you in your recruiting of talent as well."
Levine says sharing a job makes you more efficient and better organized: "It makes you talk to someone about what the next step should be. You have to think about it and make a list of where to go. You also have a double set of contacts in the company. It makes you twice as effective."
Ford will keep the women paired to manage another vehicle program. Levine and Rocco won't name that project, but they realize their continued success could pave the way for more such arrangements at Ford.
"We did need to prove that we could do this to both our management team and those below us," Rocco says. "So we need to prove again that this can be done."