Elizabeth Krear, 55
Model Responsible, Jeep Gladiator, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: B.S. and M.S., mechanical engineering, Wayne State University; MBA, Michigan State University
What drew you to the auto industry? I was born and raised in the Detroit area, and my dad was an engineer for American Motors. So every year he would bring home a new car, and year after year, I started to get more interested in them as I got closer to driving age. Sometimes he’d let me help pick out the next year’s car. I also remember one year we went to the big American Motors family picnic at the Michigan Speedway. And they had the entire portfolio of all of their vehicles out. And all of the employees and their families were there. I liked products, and I liked that automotive community vibe. I was hooked. To me, the automobile became the most exciting consumer good. I dreamed of when I could buy my first car, and I just wanted to be a part of that industry.
First automotive job: I had co-op positions while I was in college at Eaton Corp., and then I also had internships at General Motors. But, upon graduation, what I really consider my first career job, that was at Chrysler, and I was accepted into their CIE program — that stands for Chrysler Institute of Engineering. It’s a two-year rotational program that allows us to rotate through all of the different engineering areas of the company. During the rotation, the company also sent me to get my master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Wayne State University. That’s also a part of that program. That was just such an incredible opportunity to learn about so many different areas within engineering, and then also just get that master’s under your belt.
NEWSLETTER: Sign up for Lead the Way, our monthly Leading Women Network newsletter highlighting ways to educate, mentor and empower women in automotive.
Big break: It was in 2011, and it was during our bankruptcy years, and we had formed a new alliance with Fiat. The company created a platform-based brand quality organization. At that time in my career, I had a very strong engineering background in vehicle development and quality. I had also spent many years on the Ram platform, so one of my senior managers called and said, “Hey, I think you’d be great for one of these new positions.” I would say the timing was right, I had the background, and I was named head of vehicle-line quality for the Ram platform. To this day, I’m proud to say that senior manager who called me was another woman. I think it is really important that we continue to sponsor and mentor each other.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I would say I was most challenged at that time in my life when I was juggling the Ram program and new model launches in both Warren, Mich., as well as to Saltillo, Mexico. I also was attending Michigan State University working on my executive MBA program, and I was raising two young teenagers. So that was the most challenging point in my life, having three competing responsibilities. It was also, though, at that time where you just have to rise to the occasion and think about, how are we going to manage these things together?
You’ve been in the industry 30 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? Clearly the strides the industry has made in safety, autonomy, fuel economy, electrification, sustainability and sophistication immediately come to mind.
What work achievement are you most proud of? That would be Jeep Gladiator. I’m so proud to have been able to work on something that was so iconic. You’ve learned so far from this interview that I have a background on the Ram team, so I’ve worked on trucks. I also have the legacy of the Jeep brand, through my dad working for Jeep. My first leased vehicle was a CJ-7, and I personally embraced the outdoor, adventurous lifestyle. So when I was asked to lead the Jeep Gladiator, which is not only a truck, but also a Jeep, and also just the iconic vehicle that was anticipated for almost three decades, that was really just a dream come true.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? Sunday brunch with the family. Sometimes, that could be extended family. I love to cook; I love to gather in the dining room in the winter or outside on our patio in the summer. During corona, and during the stay-at-home orders, I have enjoyed walking with two dear neighborhood friends. We walk and we talk; we basically cover every subject on earth and have really supported each other during this time.
— Vince Bond Jr.