Rebecca Liebert, 52
Executive Vice President, PPG Industries
Education: B.S., chemical engineering, University of Kentucky; Ph.D., chemical engineering, Carnegie Mellon University; MBA, Northwestern University
What drew you to the auto industry? We’re seeing so much energy in the cars today with the colors that are out there. There’s a lot of change. We’re seeing how paints and coatings can enable many of those changes. Particularly think about the EV area and how the coatings in the batteries are enabling more power density. As we move into autonomous and the needs around coatings that ensure that the car can be seen. Black cars, as an example, absorb light and so the lidar and radar won’t work very well.
First automotive job: I joined PPG in 2018.
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Big break: Joining PPG as the vice president of global automotive OEM. Over the years, I’ve worked in many industries. You think about the jobs that you do over your life and you may be in a very different space, whether it’s oil and gas, or semiconductors, or plastics. And what you learn in those spaces is really critical when it comes to leadership. And it’s very applicable to the auto OEM space.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? My biggest challenge sometimes is that I’m very hard on myself. I’m a Type A personality, want to always deliver the best, want to always deliver maximum performance. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you plan. And, you can be very hard on yourself when that happens. So, the biggest challenge for me has been to balance what I’m in control of, and what market factors I’m not in control of. And then to really try to think about how you have countermeasure plans and you adapt your strategy to deal with market conditions that may or may not allow you to achieve that maximum performance.
You’ve been in the industry two years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? We have service people in almost every OEM facility around the world. And the partnership that we are having between our employees and the OEM employees is exceptionally strong. COVID has proven the value of that because we had to work together to ramp back up. Having that relationship where our people were on-site, working very closely with their people, just has really driven better performance during this period than many would have expected. So we’re going to see more and more strong, cohesive service models come to the market between the suppliers and the OEMs.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I used to work in the semiconductor industry. When [the tsunami] hit Japan in 2011, it was very devastating for the semiconductor industry because something like 50 percent of the materials come from Japan. So we saw the industry just really turn upside down looking for materials. The business that I was running at the time, we had just gone through a lot of lean Six Sigma, Toyota Production System, really proactive planning on how we could drive productivity and ramp our business quickly. And when [the tsunami] happened, we had a lot of our customers looking for extra raw materials. We were able to really support the industry and ramp up almost overnight. I’ve never seen a team come together more strongly and really deliver for the customer base. I now look at coming out of COVID, and I see exactly the same thing happening at our facilities. We had to really get our plants back and operational quickly.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We have to encourage women to be excited about math and science early. I loved to do math problems. I loved chemistry. When I was in third, fourth, fifth grade, my sister was a couple of years older than me and I was always trying to do her math for her because it was so exciting for me and I wanted to challenge myself. My parents never said no, and they never pushed me into what some people might say are more women-oriented careers. We have to really encourage that at an early age and give those experiences. And then we have to support and facilitate mentorship. I think sometimes women are maybe more timid to reach out and ask for a mentor, to reach out and say they want that next big job, to be confident in the fact that they can take on more and still maybe manage a family. So, I think we have to give opportunities to women to show that they can do those things.
— Urvaksh Karkaria