Lisa Lortie, 47
Global Director, Powertrain Testing and Analysis, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: B.A.Sc., mechanical engineering, and MBA, University of Windsor
What drew you to the auto industry? I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, and it’s a very automotive-centric city. Chrysler, Ford and GM all had a big presence in the city at the time, and when I did my first internship at Ford, I worked in an engine manufacturing plant, and I was sold. I loved the hum of the machines, just the daily satisfaction that you got out of working in a production environment, and even the smell of the cutting fluid in the manufacturing plant. I love the smell of it. I think it brings me back to my childhood when my dad was a tool and die maker. He’d come home, and he’d play with us. [The] smell always reminds me of my dad.
First automotive job: I started my internships at Ford [in 1993], and I was a process engineer for crankshafts in an engine manufacturing plant. I worked more than just the internships in the summer. We had a co-op program that went throughout the year, and then, even when I was in school, I was working at the plant on weekends and felt more like an employee.
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Big break: When I talk to young talent coming up, the promotion isn’t always the next step, and in my case, it certainly wasn’t. I took a position and had an opportunity to go back where I first started with Chrysler. I started there in ’96, at an R&D center in Windsor. Then I did most of my career after that in the U.S. I had an opportunity 15 years later to go back and run the test operations at that R&D center, and it was a lateral move, but it did offer me other things. Obviously, being closer to home and working within a familiar environment. It gave me a large sense of responsibility because I was running all the operations. I eventually returned to the U.S., but that role was key to me getting the role that I’m in today, this global testing role. Now I’m running all of the test labs for [powertrain] systems at FCA, and taking that role that was a huge sidestep actually helped me get the next couple of steps in my career.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I would say this pandemic. Being responsible for a global group and then just watching everything that was going on in China and Italy, I have labs there as well. And then, finally, when it hit the U.S. My team in any of the locations was one of the last to leave the building, and then we’ve been the first ones back in the building. It’s been a very stressful time for me and for my team. When we were shut down, it was also the first time many of the staff, at least in the U.S., had been laid off. It was very long days for weeks on end. I’m working with my counterparts and a cross-functional team at FCA coordinating the return-to-work plans to ensure employee safety, making sure all the workstations were deep-cleaned. I lead a large team, so it’s about 1,450 people worldwide. We had to ensure a safe workstation for each of the folks, so that when they came back, each of those workstations had been analyzed to ensure that they met safety requirements, and make sure we had enough PPE. It was a lot of work, and it was a huge challenge. We’ve overcome it; everybody’s returning to work, almost everybody’s back now. But you know we’re still dealing with it and the safety measures on a day-to-day basis.
You’ve been in the industry 27 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I think we are in the midst of that change right now. With more stringent emissions regulations and a continued desire for improved fuel economy and performance, the move to electrified propulsion systems in the industry is inevitable. We are well into the shift from traditional internal combustion engines to electrified systems, and this is important to meet our customer demands, government regulations as well as have sustainability in the market.
What do you struggle with? I’m a people person, and one of the things that I struggle with is leading such a large team and not being able to know each person individually. It’s not at the core of who I am. I really want to interact and know people. Then there’s also a language barrier because now many of the people on my team either don’t speak English or English isn’t their first language, and I wish I spoke many different languages so that I could communicate with everybody. I just wish there was enough time to get to know everybody on my team.
— Vince Bond Jr.