Linda Cash, 58
Vice President, Quality and New Model Launch Program, Ford Motor Co.
Location: Dearborn, Mich.
Education: B.S., industrial and systems engineering, Georgia Tech University; MBA, University of Phoenix
What drew you to the auto industry? I wasn’t drawn to the auto industry. I wanted to stay in Georgia. When I was graduating from Georgia Tech, this was a time when engineers had a lot of job offers. I really was leaning toward being a project manager at Harnischfeger. But Ford recruited on Georgia Tech’s campus. I was so impressed with Ford Motor Co. and they afforded me the ability to stay in Georgia; the Atlanta Assembly Plant was not too far down the road from Georgia Tech. They weren’t even offering the most money. But the company was appealing even then. I decided I could have the best of all worlds if I chose Ford. At that time I knew nothing about automobiles. In fact, I remember the first time one was on a hoist I was so impressed, and I realized it wasn’t because the underside of a vehicle is impressive; it’s because I had never seen under one. I was not looking for the auto industry, but thank God it found me.
First automotive job: June 18, 1984. Industrial engineering.
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Big break: I remember calling my mother saying, “Whew. This plant is hot. It’s loud. The people use a lot of swear words and there’s a lot of guys. I’m going to get Ford Motor Co. on my resume, and I’m out of here in two years.” Now it’s 36 years later and I’m still here, because I fell in love with the business. I’m a people person; there’s so many people. I immediately saw this could work. I was proud to work for this company. Proud to be representing my race and my gender. I determined immediately that I could do something for people and not just for me and in turn do the best for this company.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? It’s a hard business. It’s so influenced by external factors. I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, but what you have to deal with more than anything is the change. There’s constant change in the industry, in the behaviors of our customers, in the technology, in our focus. There’s just a lot of change. You have to be flexible and agile. I think it’s what you deal with more than anything. If you’re unable to be transformative and innovative in your thinking and just continually expand your boundaries, you’ll have a rough time in this business.
You’ve been in the industry 36 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? We’ve always said in this company that people were our greatest asset. I think you can’t just say that, you have to back that up. I think in this company, the journey we’ve had for diversity, to really, really accept how critical it is to have a diverse work force contributing in their own individual ways for our success, I think we’re getting it. At the same time, we’ve worked so hard to bring the customer to the primary focus. We’re listening and we’re allowing those customers to determine what we do and when we do it. It’s both.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I think we need to be very intentional and go in search of them. Bigger than that, though, once we get them we have to acknowledge them in such a way that they are clearly a contributor. Even though you sit at the table, you can’t just be sitting there and tolerated. We want them to have an equal stake in what’s going on and be so included to the point that they feel comfortable in the environment and they want to stay with it. If you look at our industry, we’ve done better attracting women, but I don’t believe we’ve done better retaining women. There’s a lot of work to do there.
How do you bring your best self to work? It’s probably the prayer at night. I’m a woman of faith. I pray about everything. I pray for my employees and this business and the leaders of this business. I’m a person that just has joy and peace. The best thing I can do for my team is be that balanced person so they don’t have to wonder which Linda are they going to see today.
Tell us about your family. I grew up in the small coastal city of Brunswick, Ga. Mom and Dad had seven children. I lost my father when I was in high school to a massive heart attack. My mother reared the seven of us on her own. I married my high school sweetheart and have two children, a girl and a boy. When my son was born there hadn’t been a male born in the family in 25 years. We were so happy to have him, we named him Matthew, “gift from God.” We’re the four amigos. My family has been extremely supportive of my career.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I love music. My husband and I spend a lot of time at jazz concerts. I also love to read, so I love to find my quiet spot and get my face in my Kindle. I like just being in the park and taking walks. The only thing the pandemic has stopped is my concerts. I can entertain myself just fine.
— Michael Martinez