Cathy O’Callaghan, 52
Controller, CFO of Automotive, Ford Motor Co.
Location: Dearborn, Mich.
Education: B.A., economics, University of Reading
What drew you to the auto industry? When I was an undergraduate, Ford was one of many companies that would do recruitment. What I liked about Ford was the variety of areas I could work in. Some of my classmates were looking for very specific jobs, but Ford just offered a very good training program, to be honest. My thought was that Ford had a really good reputation and I could get an accounting qualification and move on from there. I never dreamed that 30 years later I’d still be here.
First automotive job: I joined Ford on March 1, 1990, and I remember that exactly because it’s a holiday in my home country of Wales. I joined at the Dagenham Engine Plant in London as a graduate trainee. It was quite an experience. I had no clue about automotive; I couldn’t even drive a car when I joined. Initially I took the bus to work and then took driving lessons that Ford helped pay for, and about six months later I got my driver’s license. I do remember being horrified that I had to be in to work by 8 a.m. I remember thinking, “That’s so early in the morning!” And back then we had to finish work at 4:30 p.m. Looking back now, I’d love to start work at 8 and finish by 4:30.
Big break: My first big break was when I was promoted to finance director of Ford Switzerland. It was a leadership role and was the first time I had to work outside of the U.K. A different culture, environment and language. There was no finance supervisor to go ask how do I do X, Y or Z; you just have to get on with things. That taught me a lot about leadership and how to integrate and work with other cultures. It was a big eye-opener and was a great steppingstone in my career.
What was the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? How to manage family and a career. My husband also works for Ford so we’ve had to manage two careers along with our twin daughters. We’ve moved countries a few times, and having that disruption to your home life and your children’s lives has easily been the biggest challenge.
You’ve been in the industry 30 years. What’s the most important change you’ve seen? The pace of change of technology. For the first part of my career it was all about product, product, product. Now it’s all about connectivity, technical disruption, autonomous vehicles and the transition to battery-electric vehicles. That’s been the biggest change.
Describe your leadership style. I like to think I’m very open. I like to get a lot of input and fresh ideas from the team. I always think it’s important to have people who offer alternative ways of thinking. I do like to have a bit of a laugh in the workplace. Humor is very important to me because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of tension at work.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? The first thing I’d say is there should be more women that are doing the recruiting. When people think about the auto industry, they think there’s a real industrial or engineering focus. I really think it’s important at the early recruiting stage, going out there and actually having more women recruit and be able to share what they do at Ford. It’s a completely different perspective when you talk to women and they say, “Oh, you can do that? I can do that too, then.” I think that’s the first thing. And what’s really important is that we have policies in place to support women actually climbing the career ladder. Because you might be able to get them in in the first instances, but if, for example, they’re going to fall back when they have children because we don’t have actual policies [to support them], then we’re never going to get more women higher up in leadership positions in the company.
When I first joined Ford 30 years ago there were so few women who could actually manage both a career and family. It was a choice, one way or the other. That’s changed dramatically over the past 30 years.
Tell us about your family. My husband is Swiss; I met him while working at Ford Switzerland. He’s in the marketing and sales side, and right now he works in consumer experience. My girls will become juniors in high school this year. They love being in Michigan and love the fact they can start to learn how to drive when you’re not even 15 here. Their dream car is a two-door Bronco in bright orange, but they’re not getting one of those, not at 16 years of age.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? This winter I’m thinking about trying some cross-country skiing. I love the nature here, but the hills aren’t very large so it’s not really much for downhill skiing, so I’m thinking about taking up some cross-country skiing and seeing how I do.
— Michael Martinez