Ashwini Balasubramanian, 37
Engineering manager – customer applications for ZF’s General Motors business, ZF
Big break: “Joining ZF, when it was still TRW, was my first people-management role. It was no longer just about achieving your goal — it was about caring about your team, empowering them and sharing the vision with them. I got to make an impact on people’s lives.”
Ashwini Balasubramanian’s role as engineering manager for ZF’s brake business with General Motors says as much about the direction of the auto industry as it does about her. ZF is creating solutions in the science of foundation brakes, electric park brakes and vacuum actuators.
Integrated braking is on the rise. And Balasubramanian is tasked with managing the 20-person team that delivers it to GM.
“It’s no longer enough to have just an understanding of the mechanical components,” said the 37-year-old manager, a native of India who received her master’s in engineering at the University of Michigan. “You have to have an appreciation for both the mechanical and the electronic components because they’re all part of the same system now.
“The technology continues to evolve. There are new challenges ahead in brakes because of how the autonomous vehicle market is shaping up. Brakes are changing because the technologies that control how vehicles move are changing.”
Balasubramanian recalled a lifelong fascination with numbers and science. Engineering was not necessarily an expected career for a girl growing up in India. But, she observed cheerfully, things have changed.
Her automotive career began in braking at Bosch while she worked on her master’s. Toyota hired her for the next seven years, involving her in multiple aspects of its North American-sourced vehicles, including powertrain, exhaust and transmissions.
She joined TRW in 2012 before it merged with Germany’s ZF, managing its noise and vibration group in braking. That led to a stint in the company’s autonomous drive group, guiding a team working on a new forward-facing camera. It was a plunge into advanced electronics for a manager who, until then, had been focused primarily on mechanical things.
In addition to helping her get a feel for the newly emerging autonomous technology world, the job gave her more opportunity at team management and people development, she said.
Her current role has her fully engaged in people management, in addition to helping ZF consider new business opportunities with GM.
“ZF is a braking market leader,” she said. “But we know we have to continue to evolve to remain relevant. We’re still defining road maps. And in ZF, there is opportunity for people who want to help it evolve.”
— Lindsay Chappell