Regional operations quality director, Valeo
Big break: Moved from sales into a more technically challenging management career track in project management and manufacturing
Fernanda Barrales has a high-stakes job for high-tech supplier Valeo, as operations quality director for the North America region in the important Comfort and Driving Assistance business area.
She’s responsible for the quality of products made by Valeo’s plants in Rio Bravo and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, including sensors, cameras, window lift switches, electronic key fobs and telematics-related components and systems.
Barrales, who works out of the French supplier’s regional headquarters in Troy, Mich., also heads a team that oversees the quality of parts produced at Valeo’s 171 suppliers in North America.
Her half-dozen direct reports in turn supervise about 60 engineers. “Naturally,” she said, “I’m not usually involved in all the details.” However, if a serious enough problem is identified, “sometimes I’m very deep into the details,” she said.
Barrales is quick to give credit to the rest of the team. “I’m not solving software issues. I’m challenging the team members, I’m staying with them, I’m running behind them, making sure they are responding to the customer.”
She also credits her success to her father, Victor Barrales, who died in January 2021. She says he taught her that “impossible doesn’t exist.”
Valeo’s Comfort and Driving Assistance business area includes products such as cameras that go into advanced driver-assistance systems.
Barrales and her team played a role in getting back on track a surround-view camera feature for a U.S. automaker that is part of a self-parking capability. The project was behind schedule in August 2018, when Barrales was named senior project manager, a job that required her to relocate to Michigan from France. Meeting the final deadline and getting the feature launched took about nine months.
She then began her current job in May 2019.
Barrales regards an earlier job change as a big, positive break in her career. In 2013, she left her comfort zone in sales to take on assignments in project management and manufacturing and eventually move into quality control. She became project manager for development and production of engine cooling components such as radiators, condensers and fan systems at the Valeo plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
An informal mentor within the company had suggested she make the change.
“I decided to take a real leap to project management — a lateral move, basically — to learn more,” she said. “Now, I’m not an expert in any of those fields. But I became their manager. I needed to be learning from them at the same time I was managing them.”
— Jim Henry