Kelly Bysouth, 50
Chief Supply Chain Officer, International Automotive Components Group
Location: Southfield, Mich.
Education: B.A., finance, Michigan State University; MBA, University of Michigan
What drew you to the auto industry? I actually didn’t intend to work in the automotive industry. I grew up in the Detroit area and, obviously, I was surrounded by it. I was trying to make a concerted effort not to go into the automotive industry. But when I graduated in the early ’90s, the job market wasn’t that amazing. I wanted to go into more of a corporate finance role, but those really weren’t that plentiful. I ended up taking a job at a small Tier 2 auto supplier. So that’s how I sort of stumbled into it. From there, I moved to Ford Motor Co. and then just stuck with it. It wasn’t intentional, but I ended up getting the bug for it once I got into it.
First automotive job: Inside sales representative job for a small Tier 2 family-run business, Dadco, in 1992.
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Big break: When I was working at Johnson Controls in 2012, I got the opportunity to take an expat assignment, in Germany, running our European procurement team. At the time, I had a 2- and a 4-year-old. It was obviously a professional challenge and personal challenge. I really became the first female expat that Johnson Controls had ever placed. They didn’t know what to do with me, quite frankly. I had to make my own way. I had to find child care for my kids, which is not easy to do in Germany. Just from a cultural perspective, it was a pretty big adjustment, but I also learned a ton. I ended up managing our entire European team that stretched across all of Europe. I got exposed to all those different cultures and how to effectively manage those cultures. I also got exposed to being an American woman coming into a leadership team at a VP level and dealing with a lot of, I would say, egos. A lot of male egos. If you think American male egos can be tough to deal with for a woman, try German male egos. I always felt like I had a pretty thick skin, but my skin got a lot thicker in that role. Quite frankly, it set me up for the next role that I got, which was shortly thereafter. I got the leadership role for all of global procurement for the Johnson Controls auto division, which at that time was a $15 billion company. That step, and taking that experience to get that international role, really set me up to be the next leader of that function for the company.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I really thought that managing through 2008, 2009 was, before the last five months, my biggest challenge. But I honestly will say, dealing with the whole situation since March of this year, with what happened due to COVID and the fact that our entire economy completely shut down, was probably the most challenging event I’ve dealt with in my entire career. As you can imagine, the auto industry is extremely capital-intensive. If you shut that machine down for three months, it is a challenge to manage. It’s a challenge to manage from a procurement supply chain perspective for sure. I probably have not experienced anything like that in my career and hopefully never will again.
You’ve been in the industry 28 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I would say, largely, there’s two things. No. 1 was the eventual globalization of the industry. That happened maybe 10 to 15 years ago or so. That just really changed the way that we did business, changed the way we interact and changed our sourcing patterns and how we develop teams and manage teams. The other thing is just the whole change in electrification and autonomous, the new technology that’s coming into the industry. The combustion engine has really been largely unchanged for a long time up until the last few years, when we’re starting to see a lot of more exciting technologies. I think that speaks also to our ability, hopefully, to continue to encourage people to come into this industry. I think the auto industry was viewed as somewhat stale for a long time. And now I think that’s starting to change. You’re starting to see a lot more excitement around it, being more of a consumer products company than simply a heavy manufacturing, dirty, kind of capital-intensive business, which it still is, quite frankly. But it’s getting a little bit of a new face right now, which, I think, is really good.
Describe your leadership style. I’m transparent, direct. I have high expectations of my team. I like to spend a lot of time upfront, laying out very clear objectives for people and then holding people accountable. I also consider myself someone who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get in there if I have to. But I’m not a micromanager. I don’t want to micromanage. I grew up, basically, in my functional role for sure, from the bottom up. I pretty much can do anything anyone on my team does. But I don’t really want to do that, obviously. I want them to be successful in performing those tasks.
How do you bring your best self to work? I have always tried, no matter how busy I am, to make sure I make time for myself. I usually do that by doing something active. If I feel like I can’t do that on any given day, I don’t feel like I’m my best self when I come to work the next day. No matter how busy I am at work, I try to make time for myself every day. That’s how I keep my mental sanity.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? In the winter, I ski. I like to be active. I was a big yoga person for a long time; I still am, but I’ve kind of gotten more into hiking since we’ve been in this COVID situation. But anything active and hanging out with my kids and trying to get my kids to be active with me is what I like to do.
— Jack Walsworth