CEO, Dura Automotive Systems
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: B.A., economics, Michigan State University; M.S., finance, Walsh College
What drew you to the auto industry? I started my career in Michigan. Working as a loan officer, I thought I was going to go into banking. I got the opportunity to be on-site at manufacturing plants. Had never done that before. I like the logic of manufacturing. I like the impact that you can have on the plant floor. But I had a finance degree, so restructuring was a way to be able to combine both of those things.
First automotive job: I worked in consulting on the restructuring side of things. So I’ve worked in automotive my entire life. I hadn’t worked directly for an automotive company until the last couple of years when I worked with Rush Trucking. But I’ve been working for and on behalf of automotive companies.
Big break: My career was more of a series of opportunities versus one big break. Those opportunities have continued throughout my career. It started at a restructuring firm that I was at. It was poorly managed, eventually went out of business. I decided to leave that firm. As I left, the clients that I had serviced at that firm came to me and said, “We would rather work with you directly.” I ended up being busy enough I had to hire other people and started my own practice as a result. I’d like to say it was part of a grand plan but it was taking advantage of an opportunity.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? The challenge of starting young on your own is that you don’t have the opportunity to follow mentors like you would inside a large firm. So, for people whom I learned from, I had to look outside my own firm. I even learned from competitors. In automotive, agility is huge. There are curveballs thrown at you at every turn. It’s a cyclical industry, it’s a pretty aggressive industry. So, that ability to problem-solve and remain agile is as important.
You’ve been in the industry 34 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? One of the exciting changes in automotive has come with electric vehicles. It has added a technology element. You can see that by the people Apple hires away from the automotive companies. Now, with the emergence of autonomous and electric vehicles, it’s clear to a broader scope of individuals how technologically advanced automotive is. It adds a new level of complexity. And it adds some excitement to a generation that is all about technology. That’s one of the things that brought me to Dura Automotive. It’s a completely different product cadence, product cycle. The items in the car that are more important are very different.
What work achievement are you most proud of? Being able to exist in an industry that’s difficult for women. I was told when I started in my career that not only could I not compete as the owner of a restructuring firm as a woman, but not as a woman with children. That’s a restriction that is unnecessary. My kids seem to have turned out pretty well. You can be a woman, you can have children and you can compete in this industry effectively.
Describe your leadership style. Encouraging people to bring problems to the table and to solve those problems. A lot of times problems are kind of shoved under a rug, or not brought up to a CEO level. I try to make it very clear throughout the culture that the only way for us to solve problems is to identify them. The only problems that are unacceptable are those that are a surprise.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? The biggest thing is to instill self-confidence. In automotive, it doesn’t matter what sex you are, it doesn’t even matter how smart you are, it depends on how effective you are. To be effective, you have to be in the game and you have to stay in the game for a period of time. If you don’t do that, then you can’t build that track record, you can’t prove effectiveness and you can’t move forward. I had a football coach as a father. So I grew up with a coach’s mentality — which is there are no limitations. Just get it done. Just try harder. It’s really difficult to have that self-confidence if you don’t see anyone that looks like you — sex, race, ethnicity. If you can see people that look like you, then that helps to instill that confidence to continue to move forward.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? Tennis. It’s a great social activity. You get out, and in a relatively short period of time, you get some exercise. It’s something that you can play for your entire life to stay active. And it’s competitive. I like physical activity. I like being outside. It’s probably the farm girl part of me.
— Urvaksh Karkaria