Deirdre Fultz, 55
Plant Manager, Indiana Transmission Plant, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Location: Kokomo, Ind.
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
What drew you to the auto industry? The auto industry kind of approached me. I was working in pharmaceuticals. I was approached by a senior director here of quality and asked to interview because they didn’t have any women in skilled trades at that time, or very little. I wouldn’t say any. When I interviewed with the plants, I just saw the adrenaline and that constant fast pace and, quite honestly, ever since then I’ve just been addicted to it.
First automotive job: It was in 1996, when I got recruited by Chrysler, and so I came from Indianapolis and I went to Detroit and worked at a plant in the city.
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Big break: I was a supervisor, then I went to a midlevel manager. That break really came when I went to what they call a manufacturing manager because that’s when you’re No. 2 to the plant manager. I got to see a different part of the business: the financial part, the productivity part, the quality part and all the different parts of the organization.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Trying to manage in a COVID-19 pandemic environment. It’s beyond any of us; it’s beyond our recognition that anything like this could have happened. You prepare for tragedies, you prepare for fires, tornado drills, shooters, but preparing for a pandemic takes the cake. You’re just kind of feeling your way in the dark. We had to evaluate every workstation and make sure we were following CDC guidelines. It’s very serious because now you’re talking about someone’s life, someone’s health. You’re also talking about a potential of that happening if a person contracts it inside work and they take it back home, then you have all of that on your shoulders. It’s more than just the employee now, right? It’s their family, it’s their community. We were all just kind of feeling our way in the dark, the entire industry. One good thing is that it kind of brought us a little bit closer because we communicated, “Hey, we’re doing this. You guys need to be doing this,” and vice versa. That was difficult because people were genuinely afraid, and this is day after day. You can be afraid if there’s a tornado coming through, you can be afraid if there’s an active shooter outside, but then it ends. This doesn’t end. So myself and my staff had to take it very, very serious. I’m extremely proud of them because they did. Our No. 1 job is to protect people inside this plant, and whatever we need to do, we’re going to do it.
You’ve been in the industry 24 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The biggest impact was the bankruptcy. I was with Chrysler and Chrysler was Chrysler, Chrysler was Cerberus, Chrysler was DaimlerChrysler. We went through a lot of owners, which wasn’t good. But the biggest change is when we paired up [and became FCA]. At that point, we started setting direction to thrust us forward. We implemented world class manufacturing. We took seriously the quality of our products, what the customer feedback was about our products. That was the biggest shift because it’s a company, really just striving, trying to stay alive. So the concept was no, we’re not going to just try and stay alive, we’re going to thrive. I saw that in the investment in the interiors of our vehicles. In just the quality of our vehicles, in general, our warranty. It was real.
What’s the best part of your day? When I go out to the floor and I just walk and observe. I just walk the plant. That is absolutely the best part and I don’t get to do it every day, which is really disheartening.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? We moved on a lake, which I didn’t think I would like, actually. But I’m obsessed with it. Every weekend, I can’t get home quick enough on Friday to jump on the boat, especially if it’s nice weather, and just cruise. That’s my favorite activity. And then we barbecue and family comes over, so it’s really fulfilling.
— Vince Bond Jr.