Debbie Manzano, 48
Plant Manager, Dearborn Truck Plant, Ford Motor Co.
Location: Dearborn, Mich.
Education: B.S., math and statistics and M.S., industrial engineering, University of Michigan
What drew you to the auto industry? I grew up in the Detroit area. This is the Motor City; it’s what people do. My dad worked for Ford for over 30 years. He wouldn’t let anybody drive anything other than a Ford in the family. He wouldn’t let anything other than a Ford park in our driveway. He always said he bled blue, so I think that was in me growing up. Growing up in the Motor City, I have a love for cars. It was a natural fit.
First automotive job: I graduated with my bachelor’s in ’94, and I started at Ford right after that. I came in as an intern for the summer then started full time. I was a quality engineer, doing a lot of process improvements, quality auditing. I started at the Glass Plant at the Rouge.
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Big break: When I got out of engineering and into my first managerial position. Somebody really sponsored me and really had faith in me to do that. I didn’t necessarily have all the qualifications but I worked really hard, worked long hours and did whatever I had to because I wanted to be successful, even though it was a steep learning curve. It was at the end of 1999, at Ford’s Edison Assembly plant in New Jersey.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? My move to New Jersey was a challenge, but I was young so I never looked back; I think you’re more fearless when you’re young. Moving to a brand-new location, where I didn’t know anybody, I had to figure out how to get on the inside. Coming into that, I was an outsider. They didn’t know me, didn’t trust me probably, so it was getting to get in that inner circle and develop those relationships. The other big challenge, when I went to Michigan Assembly when we were launching the brand-new electric Focus and C-Max. That was a first for the company, and it was really challenging. I had just moved there as a manager of the Final Assembly shop. I worked 365 days straight without a vacation or day off in order to be successful and be strong and show that I could do it.
You’ve been in the industry 26 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? It’s the culture. I had the opportunity to be the co-chair of Women of Ford in 2017 for manufacturing. To be able to be part of that change in our environment and culture, it’s been so rewarding. As I took on that chair role, it allowed me to help people and help the company. It’s this whole [idea] of being uncomfortable and having these conversations we didn’t used to have.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I’m the plant manager at Dearborn Truck Plant. When I got the job I, just about fell out of my chair I was so excited. We call it the jewel of the company and we produce these F-150s every 53 seconds off the line, seven days a week, so it’s a business in itself. I love it.
What do you struggle with? Being an introvert in manufacturing, you always have to make sure you’re heard. You have to have a voice. Sometimes you don’t always put yourself out there and hesitate to say something. I’ve had to learn to be much more outspoken in my career and compete with the male voices out there, who always think they’re right. I have a habit of doing a lot of research and [using] data to make sure I don’t say something wrong. People want to hear you. They don’t want somebody at the table who’s going to be quiet.
Describe your leadership style. I think I’m a good listener. I always go into a situation listening because it’s important to hear what people have to say. People say I’m easy to talk to. And I’m very comfortable with people coming up to me. I may be introverted but I really do feed off the people in the plant.
How do you bring your best self to work? I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 to 12 years. It really puts you in the present and teaches you not to be reactive when there is a situation. I have a positive energy circle I carry with me and share it with all the people I work with. When things happen I’ve learned to breathe and work through the situation.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? It cycles, so you have to take advantage of it when you can. You know when you have a product launch, you just commit to the job. I get that and my husband also works for Ford, so he gets that as well. We’re getting ready to ramp up for the new F-150, so I’ll be committed 100 percent until the end of the year.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? I love to sleep. I get up early, but I go to bed early. I try to get my seven hours of sleep. This sounds terrible, but if I had an extra hour I would sleep.
— Michael Martinez