Jane Palmieri, 36
Vice President, Body Engineered Systems, Dow Automotive
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
What your college professors didn't teach you: "There needs to be a balance between book smarts and street smarts. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but it's not going to help if you are not quick on your feet to apply it. Even some of the things you see on reality TV shows like 'The Apprentice,' where they throw people into real situations - we need to pull some of that into our school curriculums."
First automotive job: Validation engineer at General Motors in 1992
Career highlights (all with Dow Automotive)
- 2001-03 New business development manager, new materials
- 2000-01 Portfolio manager, plastics
- 1997-2000 Advanced application market development manager
- 1995-97 Application development engineer, interiors
Most fun automotive job: "That was my first summer internship. I was responsible for coordinating groups of prototype cars for evaluation road trips. It represents all the excitement this industry has to offer. There is so much that goes into getting a new design on the road for the first time. Then you get the looks from passers-by. That was a powerful hook on me."
Proudest achievement: "I was the first student at Virginia Polytechnic to get a patent from the U.S. government without co-ownership by a professor. It happened the year after I graduated, and I was honored to be asked to return a year later when the patent was awarded.
"The patent came out of a design competition. We were asked to come up with a design for a new hinge for laptop computers. IBM came in and told us about the problems they were having and what they were hearing from customers. Everything about the old hinge was complicated because it was used to route wires from the base of the computer to the screen. It had to be hollow, but it couldn't pinch the wires. The element driving the cost was the wires. So I took what I thought was the elegant and simple way. I eliminated the wires by having a pin with electrical connections and etched the hinge so the electric connections were in constant contact. Now you could use any 14-cent hinge off the shelf. I didn't know if I would get an A or fail because we were supposed to design a new hinge and I used the cheapest one. But my professor thought it was clever and innovative and said I should patent it."
Current challenge: "The biggest challenge is managing the squeeze from high oil costs and our customers' demands for lower prices. That one is not going away anytime soon."
On being successful: "The key to success in my mind is to never consider yourself successful. You can't lose sight that you always have improvements to make."
What about the auto industry surprised you: "That I liked it. I was the youngest in a big auto family. My dad and my brothers and sisters are in the auto industry. When I was young, I was adamant that I would avoid it. My first internship (at General Motors) was just going to be a resume builder. But I was very surprised that I actually love this industry. It is hectic, crazy and a pressure cooker. I always had visions of being a mechanical engineer because I was a problem solver as a little girl. But I thought I'd be designing toys or go into architecture."
What women need to know for success in the auto industry: "Simply lead by example. Don't try to change history or get caught up in stomping out old stereotypes."
What you do to relax: "I like to spend time with my family and our collection of exotic pets, gourmet cooking and designing architecture and building it. My husband doesn't have to worry about my shoe spending, but he does have to manage my power tool budget.
"Our pets are an African serval (a small leopard), two macaws and a big saltwater tank with many fish. I got my first macaw 10 years ago, and the collection has been growing ever since. Now people don't come to visit us; they come over to visit our pets."