Linda Zhang, 44
F-150 Lightning chief program engineer, Ford Motor Co.
Big break: Being put in charge of electrifying the nation’s bestselling vehicle
Linda Zhang’s love of the automotive industry started almost immediately after she stepped foot off her first flight to the U.S. when she was 8 years old.
She remembers climbing in the back seat of a green rental car that her father drove them in from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to West Lafayette, Ind., where he was in a graduate teaching program at Purdue University. She barely knew English at the time and can’t recall what brand it was, but she remembers being in awe on the three-hour ride.
“It was pitch black so you could see the lights on the highway and all the infrastructure, which was really impactful for me,” she said. “I was thinking ‘Wow, this is great.’?”
Her father a few years later moved the family to Michigan when he got a job at Ford Motor Co. Zhang eventually attended the University of Michigan to study electrical engineering and decided to focus on the auto industry.
“Automotive’s more fun; it’s in people’s lives and gets people from A to B,” she said. “It’s that sense of freedom that just working on gear for a computer doesn’t have.”
She mostly has worked in engineering and manufacturing roles over her 25-year career, although she spent two years helping Ford divest from brands such as Jaguar and Land Rover during the Great Recession. She has worked on the Mustang, Escape and Explorer and was named to the F-150 Lightning team in 2018.
“It’s probably the funnest project I’ve worked on, not just for its impact to the company, but because the product itself is so fun,” she said.
Zhang’s team helped craft unique features such as a large front trunk and torture-tested the vehicle in extreme temperatures and across harsh terrains.
She said she loves this particular job for a number of reasons and isn’t daunted by the weight of electrifying the nation’s bestselling vehicle.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure, but I understand the impact with what we’re trying to do with the product,” she said.
“We want to electrify a very iconic nameplate and not only live up to the F-150 brand but exceed our customers’ expectations.”
— Michael Martinez