Zobeida Gutierrez, 54
Group Quality Director, North America, Valeo
Location: Troy, Mich.
Education: B.S., math and science, Autonomous University of Tamaulipas
What drew you to the auto industry? I originally went to ITT Automotive to cover for a friend who was on maternity leave for six weeks, a temporary assignment. But when I found the dynamic innovation, the international exposure and the multicultural exposure, I really fell in love. This is the industry where I wanted to be.
First automotive job: That was in 1993. I started in the payroll and administrative area.
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Big break: I’ve had several. But maybe the biggest is coming from an industry that was very local to one that is very international. I joined ITT Automotive and found that in the auto industry, I had to be ready to interact with the international environment, ready to learn other cultures and be ready to travel internationally.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? My first job outside of my country. I was offered a job as project manager in Michigan in 1997. I had to launch five or six projects, mainly switches, with an OEM and I was responsible for the P&L on each. The team was multinational, from four countries. I was responsible for delivering the projects on time and achieving the customer’s milestones. I say that is my biggest challenge, but at the same time I consider that as one of my biggest opportunities. I was able to interface with several networks — finance, industrial, R&D, quality — all of the fields. I keep sending this message to my colleagues, especially female engineers: Embrace the challenge. Embrace change because that is the only constant. You need to take the challenge because that will help you shape your career.
You’ve been in the industry 27 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? We’re migrating to electrification, autonomous driving systems, and we are developing solutions that are a shaping the future of mobility. We are no longer a mechanical industry. It’s a night-and-day comparison to where we were when I started.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I have many. But being able to balance my profession and personal life and being able to successfully lead my kids to successful careers is one of my biggest achievements.
Describe your leadership style. I am a very open-door kind of manager. I always try make sure I don’t see my colleagues from a hierarchical point of view. Teamwork and being close to your co-workers is key to being able to create a confident environment with open dialogue that creates trust. We always discuss different points of view.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? You need to learn how to prioritize, to protect your employees and your families and also secure the continuity of the business. It just reminded us how important in life balance is.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? I have been able to learn three languages. I think I would have liked to learn a fourth, Chinese Mandarin.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and robotics. If you are outside of the industry, that’s the way to do it. That’s the way to inspire young talent and build real passion for the industry.
What’s the best part of your day? The end of the day when I have dinner with my family.
How do you bring your best self to work? Always having a positive attitude. From the time you step into the office you are projecting a positiveness and it cascades to your team.
Tell us about your family. I am a married engineer to another engineer, who works in the diesel heavy-equipment industry. We have three boys, 27, 24 and 17.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I work by priority. I try not to get immersed in too much detail; otherwise, you cannot manage an agenda. I always try and organize my agenda. When you are in a leadership position, it is expected you will be connected 24/7.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? We love enjoying the nature here, bicycling and kayaking. We try to enjoy as much outdoor activity. I think that helps mentally as well.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? Rise by Patty Azzarello. That in my view is a mental recipe. It is very focused on real subjects that could help our young female engineers understand how to navigate the world today.
— Richard Truett