Vicki Poponi, 49
Assistant Vice President, Product Planning, American Honda Motor Co.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I started late -- 1998. I just graduated from the Wharton MBA program and had a classmate who worked for Garrett. He thought I would be good for Garrett. To me, it was "Wow, I get to work with cars." I had been in the paper industry for 15 years. Cars are a heck of a lot more exciting than toilet paper. They are the only product that you live in; there's lots of passion, lots of excitement.
First automotive job: Garrett Turbocharging, director of worldwide operations. I was overseeing 15 plants in 13 countries, putting in some uniformity in how the plants ran, quality requirements, and operational efficiency requirements to a common goal.
Current challenge at work: American Honda takes young people and puts them in product planning jobs. They are broad jobs. These guys have eight years of experience and are thrown to the wolves with r&d guys who have been there 20 years, and they are presenting to executive vice presidents. I am trying to nurture these product planners to have a business view and a market view.
Also, it's figuring out what the world will be like in the next three years, what people will need.
How has the recession affected opportunities and the work environment for women in the industry? For people coming into the auto industry, I think it's an equal playing field. For women, there are so few women going into hard sciences, you have to charge the pipeline. I graduated in 1984, and there were less than 7 percent female engineers. I haven't seen that change in 25 years. And automotive is a hard-science business in engineering and manufacturing, so of course women will be underrepresented.
On mentors: At American Honda, Dick Colliver and John Mendel helped mentor me and explain the Japanese cultural differences, the ways the Japanese grease the skids before meetings called nemawashi. The meeting just formalizes decisions that have already been made, whereas Americans get into the room and fight it out.
What you do to relax: I have a daughter who is 7, so I play with her on weekends. I like to read. I'm in a mystery/horror range right now, but it's escapist fiction.
-- Mark Rechtin