Gail May, 52
Plant Manager, Performance Manufacturing Center, Honda of America
Location: Marysville, Ohio
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, Ohio State University
What drew you to the auto industry? I’ve always been really interested and curious about how things are put together, how things operate. And that drove me toward the field of engineering and ultimately got me interested in manufacturing. And Honda was a highly ranked reputable local company when I was graduating from college.
First automotive job: It was in 1993 at Honda of America. My first job was as a liaison responsible for negotiating between our R&D facility and our manufacturing facility.
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Big break: About eight years ago, Honda decided to reintroduce the Acura NSX — here in Ohio. It had previously been both designed and manufactured in Japan, and this was the first time it was going to be designed and manufactured in the United States. I was given the opportunity to be part of the team.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? It goes back [to] when I started. A co-worker was scheduled to travel to Japan on a business trip, and he found out just a few days before leaving that his passport had expired. They asked me to go in his place. I had never traveled to Japan, I had never worked that closely with the Japanese, and I did not speak the language. Most challenging of it all, I was a woman. Back in the 1990s, it was very nontraditional for a woman to be at the negotiating table in certain business environments.
You’ve been in the industry 27 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? There are a lot more women, and I’m working with a lot more women in engineering and a lot more women in multiple different roles in the auto industry. When I graduated from college, I was one of about four women in my graduating class. To see the change today, the women that are in the industry and the women that are in leading positions, it’s just exciting for me.
What work achievement are you most proud of? Seeing the NSX truly come to life. Being part of the team that brought the supercar over from Japan.
What do you struggle with? I definitely struggle with being too much of a perfectionist. In a field like this, you would want somebody to be that critical and pay that much attention, but at the same time, it can be crippling. Trying to do everything just right and then having the same expectations of those around you, it really isn’t necessary to be that critical. It can stall the process overall.
Describe your leadership style. I have high expectations but am also a strong communicator. It’s really important to me that everyone on the team feels like they are part of the team. Also, leading by example. It’s important that people know that I’m not just asking them to do something. I’m very willing and capable of doing it as well.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? That absolutely nothing is in our control; nothing is in my control. No matter how much you plan, things are going to happen, and you are going to have to shift and head in a new direction.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? If I had to do something differently, I’d be much more intentional and much more in the moment. I feel like I am so busy all the time that I’m rushing through it. I am aware of that now. So I am able to slow down and be more in the moment.
How do you bring your best self to work? It’s really important to have work-life balance. If you do not have work-life balance, you are either not giving your best self at work or you are not giving your best self at home. I like to make sure that I have time in the evening and on the weekends relaxing, decompressing and being able to recharge so that I am the best for my family at home and the best for my family at work.
Tell us about your family. My husband and I have been married for 13 years. We have a beautifully blended family. We have four adult children. We have five grandbabies. And we have wonderful grandpuppies.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? Sleeping. I probably get five hours of sleep a night. I would so love an extra hour.
— Laurence Iliff