Stephanie Jett, 45
Senior Vice President of Global Sales, Autoliv
Location: Farmington Hills, Mich.
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, University of Louisville; MBA, corporate strategy, University of Michigan
What drew you to the auto industry? I was born and raised in the Detroit area. I went to university outside of Detroit, University of Louisville. I earned my degree in mechanical engineering, and I knew I wanted to come home. This is my home base and where my family lives. There are a lot of industries here, but the auto industry seemed like the best fit for me.
First automotive job: In 1998, I took a job at Valeo in their wiper division and I was a lab engineer.
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Big break: In 2007, the company I was working for, Metaldyne, opened an operation in China. My husband at the time had an opportunity for an ex-pat assignment in China with Denso. I went to our management team and said, “Hey, is there a spot for me over there?” They identified a position for me as director of commercial operations, and it really changed my career trajectory.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? When taking over as general manager in China, our parent company in the Americas was going through the bankruptcy. Everyone’s whole focus was really on that. But my focus was to keep everyone working, keep the plant open, manage cash flow and keep the lights on. It was a real struggle. I am really proud that plant is still open, is now part of the American Axle portfolio and has grown.
You’ve been in the industry 22 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? One is obvious: The technology shift we’re seeing in the industry. The second thing is the number of women in the auto industry, and the different cultures in the industry really is interesting to see. As everyone knows, it really was a white-male-dominated industry. We see greater levels of diversity in all levels up through CEO.
What work achievement are you most proud of? When I look at the people who have worked with and worked for me, I am really proud of where they ended up in their careers. Because while I could list a number of achievements I have made or the team has made, to see the people side of it is really amazing. Some people are doing more of what they always did, and some people have really skyrocketed. I am super proud to have hopefully had some influence on their trajectory.
What do you struggle with? I think the work-life balance is the struggle. I have two young kids. Working from home as most of us are and finding that balance to make sure you are giving them the attention that they need and getting things done at work and taking care of myself is a real challenge. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? First, to do exactly what Automotive News is doing — highlighting women who have worked their way up. Also, the ability to allow women to know they can have a career and they can have a family. That’s a concept many people struggle with. When young women see a career trajectory and they know they don’t have to choose between a career or a family, I think we will see some changes.
What’s the best part of your day? When I see my kids after school and sit with them and talk about their day and give them the love and attention they need. How did they go out of their way to do something nice for somebody? Also, when I see someone succeed at a challenge they smile and know they have accomplished something, it brightens my day.
Are you able to maintain friendships? The friends that I have are lifelong friends who I don’t need to be in constant contact with.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? Anything athletic, biking or swimming, going for long walks. But taking time with family and friends for those activities. But sometimes it’s also just sitting on the couch watching a great show.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. It talks about women taking off cloaks of expectations and rules and becoming whomever you think you want to be. It was really an eye-opening book.
— Richard Truett