Lisa Viazanko, 47
Vice President, Engineering, Faurecia
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: A.A.S., vehicle design, Macomb Community College; B.B.A., industrial administration, Central Michigan University; M.S., management, Walsh College
What drew you to the auto industry? I followed in my father’s footsteps. He was an engineer at General Motors. I very much looked up to my father. If he was in the garage tinkering, I was standing next to him.
First automotive job: In 1994 I started working for a company called Megatech Engineering and they did basic black box work for General Motors. My first job was as an assistant to a layout checker — making sure engineering drawings were accurate.
Big break: There are challenges every step of the way. With every promotion, you have to give it all you’ve got.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Challenges come and they will keep coming, big and small. For me, what is most important are the opportunities that get created with those challenges.
You’ve been in the industry 26 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? Two things: Definitely the shift to electrification. And Mary Barra’s ascendancy to General Motors CEO.
What do you struggle with? I am definitely a perfectionist. I have been studying scrum-type frameworks of agile development mainly used in software development, in which teams continuously improve through experiences reflecting on wins and losses. It’s the “losses” part that I struggle with.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? The crisis hit almost exactly one year into my role as vice president of engineering. I learned through the COVID-19 crisis that I have an amazing team, whose resilience and agility to adapt so quickly to the many changes driven by COVID-19 is impressive. We learned that “norms” of how we work are not as static as we once thought. This means we can dream and achieve new ways of working without the traditional mental roadblock of “that’s not how we do it.”
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? Two things: I wish I had learned to trust myself sooner — to take more chances to speak up and to step forward. I also wish I had learned the value of an informal network sooner. While I spent many years with my head down working hard, I sometimes missed the opportunity to build connections with those around me. Those missed connections may have enabled more effective teamwork. It wasn’t for lack of caring about those around me, just being a little overly focused on the project versus the people involved in the project.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We need to connect young women’s interests with STEM careers specifically to automotive. Young women are becoming more and more attracted to STEM but still view automotive as a man’s world. We need to draw their interest by connecting for women how they can bring a real value to the industry, leveraging leadership role models like Mary Barra and fresh topics, such as sustainability, automation, EV, autonomous driving.
What’s the best part of your day? While I absolutely adore my family and colleagues, the natural introvert in me really appreciates a few minutes alone in the late evening to pause, meditate and reflect. This reflection moment helps me feel recharged for the next day.
Tell us about your family. I am married and we have two wonderful daughters, Olivia, 12, and Julia, 10. My parents are both retired and live close by.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? Navigating work-life integration is one of the biggest challenges for me as a working parent. Work-life balance is not something achieved but more of something to be maintained. The weight is always shifting and therefore I strive to stay mindful, creative and opportunistic. I make the most of every minute of every day. A strong supportive environment is also key to success. I am blessed with strong support from my partner, my mom and my good friends.
Are you able to maintain friendships? Yes. I keep my dear friends close. But I definitely have become more selective on who I spend time with. Time has become a precious commodity. Who I spend time with and how we spend it is increasingly important to me these days.
— Richard Truett