Susan Brennan, 43
Director, Manufacturing, North America Vehicle Operations, Ford Motor Co.
Education: B.S., microbiology, University of Illinois; M.B.A., University of Nebraska
First automotive job: Chemical and safety manager at automotive seat supplier Douglas & Lomason Co. in Red Oak, Iowa, in 1989
Most fun automotive job: "My first job was probably the most fun. I was hired in to treat the waste and manage the waste of the production process at Douglas & Lomason. What I learned quickly there is you cannot treat the waste. You have to fix the operations."
Career highlights (all with Ford)
- 1999-2000 Plant manager, Edison (N.J.) Assembly
- 1997-99 Plant manager, Chesterfield (Mich.) Trim
- 1995-97 Final area manager, Wayne (Mich.) Assembly
Biggest mistake and what you learned: "I think out loud too much. I'll be thinking ideas through, and they get misinterpreted sometimes. I think it's best not to state an incomplete thought or to think out loud. Plants are very decisive places, and having an incomplete thought can be very disruptive."
Proudest achievement: "Almost every plant I've ever been at has won some form of quality award, whether it was an internal Ford award or a J.D. Power award. I'm very proud of the quality achievements at the plants I'm responsible for."
Current challenge: "Plants are very dynamic, so I have a lot of challenges right now. Major launches, ongoing launches for normal freshenings. Quality is probably the number one challenge right now and probably the greatest opportunity for the company. Most of my time is spent on quality, continuing to improve. I feel the quality of our vehicles is much better than the perception. I don't get involved very much at all (in overcapacity issues). My primary responsibility is to build quality products in those plants, keep the workers safe, continue to improve productivity, maintain environmental compliance and continuous improvement, energy reduction."
On being successful: "You have to be flexible, and you have to set realistic expectations. I also think you have to be prepared for a changing environment. One of the things I like about manufacturing, particularly the operations side, is that it's never the same day twice. If you don't like that, you won't be successful at this piece of the business."
What about the auto industry surprised you: "I grew up in a factory town, so it probably wasn't as big of a leap for me as it was for other people. The town I grew up in was a town with very, very strong values. And that's one thing that's sustained me through the time I've been in operations. I really like the people who work in the operations side. I like the values they have, the drive for success, the drive to build high-quality products; the pride in the plant is just amazing. So I guess the thing that surprised me the most is that message doesn't get out to the general public. When you look at the amount of people we're talking about, I don't know how that message stops at the factory door."
Job to which you aspire: "I've been in manufacturing a long time. I would like to work more on strategy. I've spent a lot of time in the hard-core execution side. I'd like to be able to take that experience I've gained and spend some time on the strategic side. Of course, I might go crazy going to meetings all the time. I have asked to be considered at some time for an assignment overseas. I think that's going to be critical in the long run for success. It doesn't matter what industry you're in: Globalization is what it is.
"I'd like to follow the career of Anne Stevens (Ford Motor Co. group vice president for Canada, Mexico and South America). I think what she's doing now is fascinating. That would be one of the things I'd like to do: Go overseas and get a broader view of the global automotive industry."
What you do to relax: "I play with my kids. We bike ride and go swimming. I like to ski a couple of times a year."