Barb Samardzich, 47
Executive Director, Small FWD and RWD Vehicles, Ford Motor Co.
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, University of Florida; M.S., mechanical engineering, Carnegie-Mellon University; M.S., engineering management, Wayne State University
First automotive job: Product design engineer at Ford in 1990
Most fun automotive job: "The F-650 and 750 (as chief program engineer). In Ford, that's kind of small-potato stuff. So the company basically left you alone. It was like, 'Here, just go do this,' and you didn't have a million report-outs. You didn't have everybody telling you (what to do). It's not like a Navigator or Expedition."
Career highlights (all with Ford)
- 2000-02 Chief engineer, automatic transmissions
- 1999-2000 Quality director, Ford of Europe, Cologne, Germany
- 1997-99 Chief program engineer, F-650 and F-750 trucks
Biggest mistake and what you learned: "I hate to say this, but personally my biggest mistake was staying as long as I did at Westinghouse. What I needed to get out of that company, I got out of there in about six years."
Proudest achievement: "Oh, that's the (redesigned 2005) Mustang. For sure. If you put a resume together, the number one item is the Mustang. That was a heck of a lot of effort, me and Hau (Thai-Tang) and Nancy (Gioia) working on that."
Current challenge: "I like to call them the profitability-challenged products in the Ford stable. With the small-car segment, I think my biggest challenge is to continually improve the profitability of the vehicles we have that play in the small segment. And also capturing youth. So my number one focus right now is: How do we get a product line that really attracts youth into the Ford brand? The Ford brand is a good brand; it has a lot of aspiration products for youth. The Mustang is definitely aspirational for them, and so is F series. My challenge is: The millennial is really not ready to purchase a Mustang or an F series right now. So how do I get that aspirational product in there for them?"
On being successful: "Number one is know what your priorities are. A lot of people ask me: How do you balance your family, your work? You've got to know your priorities. My family is my number one priority. Then I have work, and then I have exercise in there somewhere. You have to make sure that where you're working allows you to line up those priorities, and Ford absolutely did. So, hey, if my kid was sick that day, and I had to take him to the doctor, Ford is more interested in that I'm getting my work done and doing the right job than that I had to take my kid to the doctor. As long as you have your priorities set up, you find yourself not in conflict. And that's very important to be able to focus on what you're doing at the time.
"The second thing I tell people is you've got to love what you do. To get up in the morning and moan, 'Oh, I've got to go to work again,' I can't imagine that. I got in that situation at Westinghouse. You have to get out."
What about the auto industry surprised you: "The pride and excitement you feel. The emotional attachment you feel for these products and how personally you take the feedback from those consumers is surprising."
What women need to know for success in the auto industry: "First, it's a great industry, so stick with it. I would also advise any woman entering this industry - regardless of what function they're entering, whether it's in the marketing and sales arena or public affairs - to really understand the business, to understand the technologies that underlie that business."
Job to which you aspire: "From the position I'm in, I would look at vice presidential jobs. I would love to go back to powertrain. But I'm more than happy in this job."
What you do to relax: "OK, so that's three minutes a day, right? I get home about 8, and I have to go to bed by 9:20. But I typically never have to work on weekends, which is fortunate. I run on a regular basis, so that's my number one stress reliever. I talk a lot on the phone with sisters-in-law and friends, and we go out to dinner. Lots of socializing and that kind of stuff for us is lots of fun. And then I have my kids, so I spend time with both of them."