Executive Vice President of Procurement and Supply Chain Operations, Martinrea International
Location: Vaughan, Ontario
Education: B.A., general literature, and M.S., administration, Central Michigan University
What drew you to the auto industry? Cars can be an expression of your personality. A lot goes into selecting a vehicle that you decide to drive. For example, it might be the styling that appeals to you or the color choices or family requirements and how much space you need to accommodate your family. When you can have one of those major purchases be an expression or an extension of yourself and your personality, that’s pretty exciting.
First automotive job: 1996. I worked for a steel mill in Cleveland. Then, it was LTV Steel. It has since been acquired by ArcelorMittal. At the time, I was a recent graduate of college, and I’m working in this heavy industrial facility. The building I was in — the 84-inch cold mill — was a mile long. The steel-making process itself was quite amazing. I can remember standing by the blast furnace, thinking, “I’m standing by a man-made volcano.” It’s hot. It’s dirty. It’s dangerous, but it was fascinating and exciting at the same time.
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Big break: I would liken my career to the movie Any Given Sunday. It was starring Al Pacino. He was the coach of a football team, and he was giving a motivational speech to his team, saying football is a game of inches, and when you add up those inches, it results in a win for the team. My career was kind of like that in that there was no period where it was a meteoric rise. Instead, it was a series of challenges, which became opportunities.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I was working at an OEM, and it was the early 2000s during the North American steel industry consolidation. It was a very stressful time because two of the large steel makers in North America were bankrupt, and one of the major coating mills caught fire. There was a drastic shortage in steel availability in North America. Navigating that situation and finding the steel that we needed to make vehicles was very challenging.
You’ve been in the industry 24 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? Right now is the most exciting time in the auto industry. We’re going through this innovation curve, and it’s pretty exciting between autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, smart roads, smart seating. All of these innovations — I have never seen anything like this in the industry.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? Teamwork is critical and keeping up relations with all of our suppliers. It was a very stressful time not only internally for our employees, but also for our suppliers. There were a lot of unknowns, and having those great, strong relationships really helped us navigate the crisis.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? I really can’t say there is. I feel very blessed for the life that I have, for the experiences that I’ve been given. This is probably more than I would have envisioned for myself in the very beginning, so I can’t imagine wanting to change anything. I think part of me struggles balancing confidence with humility. Being humble and close to your roots is very important, so if I reflect back on my life and my career, there’s not a whole lot I would change because I would have had to make sacrifices elsewhere.
Are you able to maintain friendships? I am, but to be honest, I have to give credit to both my husband and my friends because it’s really them that are the links that keep us together. I’m not the best at calling people after a long day. But my friends are the ones who will be roping me in, saying, “Come on. We’re all going to get together, and we’re going to do this,” or my husband will say, “Come on, we’re going to go here, and we’re going to do this.” So if it were not for them, I think that would be a major challenge for me.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a story about a boy who survived the concentration camp at the end of World War II, and it’s just one of those books where you admire his courage. It invokes such an emotional response that just sticks with you. And you remind yourself, if he had the courage to endure this, I don’t have any excuses for anything.
— Audrey LaForest