Judy Curran, 49
Director, Vehicle Evaluation and Verification and PD Factory, Ford Motor Co.
Director, Vehicle Evaluation and Verification & PD Factory • Ford Motor Co. • Age 49
Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I've always been interested in math and science. Coming out of school, I started in the aerospace industry working for United Technologies and moved to Connecticut.
I was born in Germany and moved here when I was 6. My dad worked for General Motors, and I always thought I'd be in the industry. I liked this area of the country, I liked the auto industry, and I liked being near my family so I moved back to get into the auto industry.
First automotive job: I worked for GM in the summer of my senior high school year; that was 1979.
When I started at Ford, in 1986, I worked in engine controls, which is the same thing I did in the aerospace industry. My background is electrical engineering. I worked in software and engine controls for the first dozen years at Ford.
Proudest professional achievement: As chief engineer for the Ford Explorer. I did that job for five model years. It was the late 1990s, early 2000s.
Current challenge at work: I'm responsible for all the test facilities in North America. The challenge is to keep the test facilities ready. By that I mean if the government comes out with new regulations, we have to be ready or if the customers have tougher requirements, we have to be prepared to test them. My team is responsible for signing off the vehicle as ready-for-production after going through all the tests.
We're also constantly developing new testing methods to move the tests off the track and into the lab. When they're in a lab, it makes it easier to do the test; you get higher quality and a faster test. That all cuts costs, cuts time and improves quality.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? Thinking back to the aerospace industry, I walked in the door and felt like no one was expected to know how a turbo engine worked. Men and women were equally trained on what the engines were.
I came to Ford and the questions were: Do you have gasoline in your veins? Are you tinkering in your garage? What are you wrenching on at home? I felt a little put off, but now people don't do that, and I think the playing field will be more equal.
Vehicles started off being a man toy, in my mind. Now it's evolved to something for everyone, and I'm hoping that will make it easier for the 22-year-old women entering the field.
Dream job: I like working in product development. I want to continue to get more responsibility in product development. I'm open to lots of opportunities.
On positive energy: I have three children. My daughter just graduated from University of Michigan in chemical engineering, my son will graduate in one year from U of M in mechanical engineering, and my youngest is entering U of M this fall in computer engineering. They are all in engineering. So I feel being a woman in the auto industry and being in engineering, I must have brought home some positive energy for that field. They all like listening to me about what's going on at work and what my challenges are. So all three are on their way through U of M in engineering, and I think: Yeah, I did it!
What you do to relax: I play tennis, not very well. I'm on a tennis league. In the winter I enjoy downhill skiing. I like to entertain a lot at my home, especially on Friday nights after the long workweek. I don't play golf, but that's on my bucket list.
-- Jamie LaReau