Kimberly Pittel, 56
Vice President, Sustainability, Environment & Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Co.
What attracted you to the auto industry? When I was 16, there was an intern program [at my high school], which is why I'm such a believer in STEM programs. In my senior year, I went to school half the day, and the other half day, I was at General Motors in Flint in their metallurgical laboratory. The metallurgical engineers I worked with were wonderful, and they hired me every summer as a college intern. That internship program changed my life.
First automotive job: At Ford in 1985 in a manufacturing test lab doing the same darn work I did at GM for my internships
Big break: Moving from the manufacturing/testing environment into actually manufacturing engineering proper and then going into full production management
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? Managing dual careers between my husband and me. I think every couple faces that challenge when you have two people who have significant careers. My husband is in finance at another Fortune 500 company, so I think that the biggest challenge we faced was managing both careers and having a family.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? I faced a big challenge when I made it to plant manager - we then joint-ventured our facility to another company, so I was without a job. My director at the time was Linda Miller, who was the first female plant manager for Ford Motor Co., and she recommended that I talk to this woman in product development who was looking for fresh perspective named Barb Samardzich. The two people who had the most significant influence on my career were Linda Miller and Barb Samardzich, and I love saying that in this industry - it was two women in completely different skill teams who helped me make what I consider the biggest move in my career. When women get together to help women, it changes people's lives.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I don't think we sell this industry very well. I don't think anyone understands that we're not the "dirty" industry. I don't think it's just attracting women into this industry, it's attracting young people. You could have a career in manufacturing or product development, but we also use engineers or technical people in purchasing. You could have a career in finance, and we also have good development programs that include marketing and sales. People don't understand that within this industry, there are multiple careers. Young people don't necessarily have a firm, fixed vision of their future, so the idea that you can go in at one thing and then realize, at least in this company, you can go anywhere. You could have 10 careers in one company.
Tell us about your family. My family is my husband, who, ironically, works for a shredder, and they shred cars. Here I am, the vice president of sustainability. He's in finance, so he's not running the shredders, but they recycle the material from shredded vehicles and sell it back into the market. So we are a full-circle family. I make 'em, he shreds 'em and sells them back. We've been married 26 years.
We have a 22-year-old daughter who graduated from Michigan State University, and she's teaching chemistry and physics in Chicago. She will be a role model for young women going into the sciences.
What's your favorite weekend activity? I read a lot. I also have a pool, so I read in my pool. I like to float and read. One of my favorite authors is Vince Flynn.
Best advice you've ever gotten? In my young career, I was asked to do something really not good. Someone said to me, "Yes, this is not a fun assignment, but do you just want to be like everybody else, or do you want to be the person that takes it on?" I thought, "I do want to be that person." When somebody comes to you and tells you to step out of your comfort zone, don't step back. You have to be willing to take a chance in order to succeed.