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Jamie Zinser

Dura Automotive Systems

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Global Engineering Director – Structural Systems Division, Dura Automotive Systems
Auburn Hills, Mich.
Age: 38
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, Kettering University

What attracted you to the auto industry? I loved math and science. I worked at a country club, and most of the members were executives who worked for GM. They encouraged me to go into engineering, specifically in the auto industry.

First automotive job: My first job here was working in the lab designing and maintaining test fixtures — right out of high school. I interned here at Dura for four and a half years and then spent six months writing a thesis. I was hired as a mechanical engineer and product engineer in 1999.

Big break: Early on, I was thrown to the wolves. I started as a product engineer and had the opportunity to work at Ford for three years. I was managing a product line. The job had a lot of visibility, and I learned a lot. Both Ford and my company noticed the job I was doing. I was in launch mode and dealt with crisis situations across four continents. It was a difficult position that required a lot of travel. There were cultural issues to deal with and, with this job, I earned the customer's respect.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? When we came out of bankruptcy, after the recession, we experienced significant downsizing. We lost a lot of good talent. The industry started performing well again, and we had to reach out and rebuild our team. Another factor: The industry was morphing into something else. With the lightweighting we were doing on our parts, it required engineers with different talent. My product lines were changing, and light components were needed. I had to find employees who had expertise in aluminum, composites and hybrid design. We were reaching out to universities to find people with the right fit for this team.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? There needs to be more engineering programs for females at a younger age. Most of my decision making with my career was established at 12 to 14 years old. We don't have enough programs at the junior high or high school levels to encourage women into math and science.

Tell us about your family. I have a sister, and she is everything to me. She is my best friend. She is the most special person in the universe. I have a mother. My father died when I was a teenager. I think dealing with that impacted who I have become. I grew up in Fenton, Mich.

What's your favorite weekend activity? I enjoy gardening. I love running. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, and I'm a connoisseur of wine. I don't take it too seriously, though. I also play hockey.

Are you able to maintain friendships? Yes. I still talk frequently to the girl I sat next to in kindergarten. Most of my friends have been very significant — friendships from kindergarten, high school and college, lifelong friends. Friendships are a major priority for me.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? My dad.

What's your guilty pleasure? Red wine and dark chocolate.

Name one talent you wish you had. I struggle with foreign language, but I'm working on that now. I've hired a German teacher.

By Marti Benedetti

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