Olabisi Boyle, 53
Vice President, Product Planning and Mobility Strategy, Hyundai Motor America
Location: Fountain Valley, Calif.
Education: B.S., industrial engineering, and M.S., mechanical engineering, Columbia University; B.S., physics, Fordham University
What drew you to the auto industry? I’ve always been into form and function. I like the idea that you have to develop something to meet some sort of functional objective, but I always want it to be aesthetically beautiful. And when you do cars, you really have the opportunity to get both of those together. To get the engineering, technical side, but also get the creative, beautiful side.
First automotive job: At Ford, I was a process engineer at the body shop in Wayne Stamping and Assembly [in 1995].
Big break: Becoming the chief engineer for the minivan at FCA. So, that was the opportunity to talk about bringing form and function together. You have a team of body, interior, chassis, electrical, powertrain engineers. And you’re responsible for vehicle quality, cost, timing, functional targets, the product planning, all of it. You’re going to be driving one day behind a vehicle and you’re going to be like, “Oh, yeah, I remember when we did those taillamps, and I remember the issues we had with those fasteners.” I like that.
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What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I think the major challenge I face, especially as a woman and a Black woman in auto, is sometimes people underestimate your potential. And sometimes people don’t recognize your abilities. And so I just double-down, and I get built up, I make sure I know what I am doing, and you can overcome that. But people sometimes make an initial judgment.
You’ve been in the industry 21 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The embracing of connectivity in the car, the embracing of electric vehicles, the move to autonomous vehicles, the move to CAFE compliance. All of these opportunities to make our vehicles work for society at large. Even going through this pandemic, we’ll probably eventually come up with vehicles that are resilient in a pandemic world.
What work achievement are you most proud of? When we launched the Town & Country minivan in 2011, we won best in class from J.D. Power. It was during a time when things were pretty tough at FCA. But we had our heads down and it was about focusing on developing this vehicle independent of the circumstances going on.
What do you struggle with? I’m very judicious in how I make decisions, from the most grand to the most mundane. And it’s not that I haven’t made mistakes — I’ve made lots of mistakes. But I don’t just do something. I take a lot of time to consider what I’m going to do. When I do make a mistake, I always look to learn from it.
Describe your leadership style. When I come to a new place, I always work to understand what’s working well and what’s not working well by talking to everyone. I do that because I want to set a vision, or a North Star, for where we’re going.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? We’re always going to have challenging times, and setting yourself up, building yourself up, so you’re built up not puffed up, is what gets you resilient through those challenging times.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? It is up to senior leaders to take accountability, to make an environment for underrepresented minorities where they feel they can belong in this majority-centered space. If I’m interviewing people, it might take me longer to wait for a more diverse slate. Wait longer, suffer it out and get a more diverse slate. We have to put in the additional effort because diversity of opinion makes our products better.
What’s the best part of your day? Laughing and joking with the team. They can get really serious.
Tell us about your family. I’ve been married for 30 years. My husband and I met at Columbia, we got married at Columbia. He’s in auto. He worked at Ford for 20 years. We have one son, he is 22. He just graduated Columbia last year. And our two dogs, Ebony — a Shih Tzu poodle — and Argos, a chocolate lab.
Are you able to maintain friendships? My six best friends who were in my wedding 30 years ago, we have stayed friends to the point where we have Zoom calls every Sunday.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? The Mary Trump book, Too Much and Never Enough. It was insightful to understand how parenting can affect people.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? I would take some time to just not move. Because I think I move every waking second.
— Laurence Iliff