Julie Kurcz, 58
Executive Director, Product Quality, Kia Motors America
Location: Irvine, Calif.
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, Lehigh University; MBA, University of Detroit Mercy
What drew you to the auto industry? I’ve always had a fascination for the automobile. As early as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by the technical complexity of the product and also the emotional connection it creates with the consumer. My dad was an engineer and I have many fond memories of spending time with him in the garage, tinkering with all things mechanical, which sparked my curiosity at a very early age.
First automotive job: When I graduated from college, I accepted a position as a manufacturing engineer with Ford Motor Co., and that was in the summer of 1984. I packed my car and I drove from New York to Michigan to begin my automotive adventure. I figured I would be in automotive for a couple of years, but I got hooked and never looked back.
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Big break: I’ve been fortunate to have had many amazing opportunities in my career. Joining Kia in 2009 with the challenge to build our quality organization and contribute to the growth of the Kia brand has been a remarkable personal journey for me.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I would have to say it’s how to recruit, develop, grow and retain exceptional talent and build great teams. We are only as good as our people. And I’m a firm believer that the best teams are more than the sum of their parts and can accomplish remarkable results. I am constantly challenging myself to find ways to be a better leader and inspire each team member to shine to their personal best and lean over the edge to deliver amazing outcomes.
You’ve been in the industry 36 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? We’ve seen a lot of advancements in technology. We’ve also seen a lot more women in the workplace, especially the auto industry, which I think has been incredibly encouraging. Clearly, the automotive industry has a tremendous wealth of different opportunities for young women, and that growth has been quite tremendous over the last many years.
What do you struggle with? I like to do everything as well as possible. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I want to do well in my professional world and give it my all at work. And then when I am home with my family, I also want to be the best mom and the best wife I can possibly be. With COVID over the last several months, it really makes the work and the home life very blurred. It has added a new dimension to the challenge.
Describe your leadership style. I like to be very inclusive. I’m such a strong believer in the power of teams. Each individual has their talents and their strengths. And it’s important to cultivate and really understand each team member and what makes them tick and what makes them strong. And then put all those pieces of the puzzle together to elevate the team.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? As female leaders, we certainly have a great opportunity to be ambassadors for the industry and share our personal career experiences with young women who are at a point in their lives where they’re making a decision on which path to choose. We should capitalize on this chance that we have to build excitement for the products and the services that we work on. We have the ability to lead by example and to mentor and recruit our young women to try the automotive industry.
What’s the best part of your day? Seeing my son after a long day. I have a 14-year-old son, and he’s just the light of our lives. He’s articulate, he’s compassionate, very bright and inquisitive. It’s kind of nice to see things through the eyes of a 14- year-old. It’s refreshing and I think he teaches me more than I teach him.
— Laurence Iliff