Susan Kenny, 52
Engine Plant Manager, Honda of Canada Manufacturing
Location: Alliston, Ontario
Education: Bachelor of Engineering, Lakehead University
What drew you to the auto industry? When [Honda] offered me the job, I actually had an offer from an IT company and I had to choose between the two. The reason I chose Honda honestly is because of the reputation they have for building very reliable, high-quality products.
First automotive job: I started working at Honda in 1993 as one of two engineers hired into the Quality Engineering division.
Big break: I was about three years in and we were just starting the development of the new Acura MDX. I was asked to be project leader for the design quality portion. So I led a team of people that work with R&D to mature that design for manufacturing. That role really gave me exposure to a lot of facets of our business: The sales division, our R&D division as well as manufacturing, so that really gave me a vast amount of experience and really opened up a lot of doors for me.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? The biggest challenge that I have had are my own self-doubts and my ability to trust in my own capability. And I always felt like I didn’t belong. And over the years, I’ve learned that I really was no different than anybody else in the room, and that if I just trusted my instincts and worked hard, then things would work out. And if they didn’t, then they would be mistakes that I could learn from.
You’ve been in the industry 27 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? There’s been a really big push to put diversity and inclusion at the forefront of all of our decisions, and to be able to make that a big part of our business. And that has really brought on a whole different type of worker. We’re in the middle of a very small town, so lots of young farmers come to work here. But in the last probably five to 10 years, we’ve really opened that up. And what that’s brought is a lot of diversity of thought and a lot of diversity of ideas and has really made this work environment a much better place.
What work achievement are you most proud of? Four years ago, I moved from a quality manager position to a manufacturing manager role. It was a big leap for me to take on that role. I learned a lot. But I took over a department that was really struggling. They had a lot of quality issues, they had a lot of delivery issues; morale was not great. And so it was a little daunting to be able to take on that role. But I did. And I am very happy to say that together with the team, we were able to make some big gains and improve the overall departments in all aspects.
Describe your leadership style. I believe that everybody on the team has a voice and an important voice. So I really like to listen to what everybody has to say and to be able to solve problems as a team. I don’t consider myself a bit of a director that way, I guess. So I would probably say it’s a bit more of a consensus-building leadership style. And just making sure that everybody has a voice in solving problems.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We have to show women all the opportunities there are in the industry. Sometimes I think there’s a perception that if you didn’t grow up tinkering with cars, or taking apart car engines, then maybe the auto industry is not for you. And that manufacturing has got a perception of being a very dirty industrial type of environment. And neither one of those are true. We have to show that there are opportunities, and there’s a lot of facets to the industry.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I think we need to look at the definition of work-life balance, or how I defined it for me. And I always joke, sometimes my family wins, and then there’s other days when Honda wins. So it’s not every single day I have balance. But on average, I do believe I have balance.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I like to run. I consider Sunday mornings to be mine. So I get up early, and I usually meet a group and I go for a decent run — 10 to 15 kilometers — and sometimes meet for coffee after.
— David Muller