Jamie Zinser, 43
Chief Technology Officer, Global Automotive Systems
Location: Roseville, Mich.
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, General Motors Institute
What drew you to the auto industry? I truly had a passion for math and science. I loved it throughout high school. I worked at a country club where there were a lot of GM executives. And just by talking to them about career options, they encouraged me to look at GMI as a potential school of choice and I pursued that. I fell in love with engineering.
First automotive job: I started in 1994 as a college intern working for Dura Automotive.
Big break: I’ve had two big breaks. The first was in 2016 when I was offered the role of head of engineering for Dura Automotive. At the time, I was five months pregnant. I was a little bit nervous about taking on that role, given my situation. But I’m glad I did. It was a great opportunity for me to improve upon my leadership skills. My second big break was last summer when I was offered the chief commercial officer role at Dura Automotive. I’ve spent 25 years in engineering and that was something completely different and completely out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I did that and pursued that because it crossed me over into a different league in terms of my skill sets.
What was the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? The major challenge I’ve faced has probably been in the last year. I came into the chief commercial officer role at Dura Automotive in the summer of 2019; shortly thereafter we basically went into a [Section] 363 sale process. That was something that I went into the role thinking it was going to be one thing and then it completely turned. It became very interesting. I’d never been involved in a 363 sale process. There were new parties that I had to deal with, the investment bankers, the lawyers, potential new buyers and, of course, the customer base. It was very interesting. And then COVID hit and there was some added complexity. I’m glad I went through that process. It was quite an experience for me.
You’ve been in the industry 26 years. What’s the most important change you’ve seen? The most important change that I’ve seen has been in technology and the advancement of the actual vehicle itself. Both have come into play in terms of mechatronics, ADAS, vehicles have become electrified and what Tesla has done to the scene. Then you see a lot of advancements in materials, helping the vehicle become lighter in weight to help support those initiatives.
What work achievement are you most proud of? The teams that I’ve built. Whether it be engineering or sales, I’m really most proud of my people. I really have built some great teams and we’ve had fantastic individuals.
Describe your leadership style. I’m a very good contrast of being tough and also understanding. I hold people accountable, but I also know that we’re human in nature.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? We are more flexible than I thought. At first, I didn’t think that this work-from-home model would make us as productive as we once were. But we have adjusted as a society and utilize different technologies like Zoom and other ways to connect. I think it’s just been very interesting how we’ve been able to actually adapt socially and professionally.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I’ve worked with programs in the past, such as a mentoring program called the Women of Tomorrow, as well as FIRST Robotics. I think that the one thing that young women struggle with is how to connect their interests with a career path. I believe that once you’re able to find what drives them, or what passions they have, and then help them connect the dots as to how that could be a potential long-term career, that’s going to drive more women into automotive, which has been obviously predominantly a male industry. But participating in these types of programs is key.
Tell us about your family. I am a single mother to my 3-year-old son, but I really consider my family my extended family. I couldn’t do any of this that I do without the support that I have from my nanny, my mom, my sister, my boyfriend, my neighbors, my friends and my co-workers. They support me on a daily basis and this is why I’m able to do what I can do.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? With my son.
— Jack Walsworth