Paulina Johnson, 44
Ford global account manager, ArcelorMittal North America
Big break: Helped create new team manager roles for each OEM client following a merger with another steel company
Paulina Johnson had sworn off working in the steel industry after growing up in Gary, Ind., and watching her father toil away as a welder at a local mill.
So when a representative from Ispat Inland Steel suggested she submit her resume, she declined, half-jokingly saying she didn’t want to do hard labor. But the rep pointed out some open sales positions working with the auto industry, and Johnson decided to apply.
“It was inevitable because of my childhood exposure to the industry by various family members,” she said. “When they brought me in, I loved the entrepreneurial culture and opportunities for advancement.”
One of her earliest accounts was with Bing Steel in Detroit, and she felt empowered to make decisions and shape the job the way she wanted.
The company eventually was purchased by ArcelorMittal. When it merged with another steel maker and expanded its footprint in 2005, Johnson proposed an idea to create a new role for team managers based on each OEM client. Her bosses liked that idea, implemented it and made her the manager of the Ford Motor Co. North American customer service team.
“That was the big break because it gave me opportunities to develop processes and procedures for employees, gave me visibility to senior leaders and gave me the ability to gain their trust as being an effective decision maker for a broader scope of employees,” she said.
Last year she was promoted to be the Ford global account manager, putting her in charge of selling flat rolled steel for various vehicle parts. She also is responsible for creating a sales forecast that supports Ford’s production schedule and balances ArcelorMittal’s inventory — no small task amid the pandemic and other supply constraints.
She said she’s been inspired by her coworkers and their ability to overcome challenges to keep the business running smoothly.
“Any doubt I ever had about the resiliency of the industry was removed through this experience,” she said.
Johnson said she’s proud to be ArcelorMittal North America’s only African American woman in a senior sales leadership position and wants to continue working in the role. And she feels a sense of pride for continuing the legacy of her father, who died in 2015.
“He had the factory floor experience and I had the front-of-the-house sales experience, so we’d often compare stories,” she said. “I’d tease him that his influence on me was indirect; I was so adamant about not entering the industry and now I’m over 20 years in and I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.”
— Michael Martinez