Nissan Design America
What attracted you to the auto industry? I went to an auto design show and I just knew flat out this is what I wanted to do. It just blew me away. It just sort of connected. And I knew I didn't want to design toasters or computers, that it was going to be cars. I'm not a motorhead. I don't have oil in my blood. I'm all about the form. I'm all about the expression.
First automotive job: I did an internship at Ford for two months in summer 1983. I'd switched schools without telling family and made the jump to CCS. I already had four years at Wayne State and I had another semester to do to finish. So I told CCS I can do this at CCS if you give me just two years for a transportation design degree. Ford was that first summer after that. And suddenly I was making more money than my dad at the time, and that's when my mom came on board.
Big break: It was that first semester. I had to take out a student loan and pay for it. [CCS] gave me a modest scholarship. But they stacked me up, I think I had to do 21 credits hours. And then we had a show that first semester and my stuff was just screaming off the wall. And I ended up getting a full ride the rest of the way.
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? The challenge is to not take it home with you. Because sometimes the work gets so heavy, you find yourself taking it home and working on Saturday or Sunday. And sometimes that is a bit much, but it's not always that flow. It's an incidental flow. Plus during the truck program, it was such a complicated logistical process. We had to do all these bed/cabin relationships and configurations to make them work throughout the lineup, so that made it a really heavy load.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? I don't know if I could say a single person. I would have to say the NDA [Nissan Design America] culture. The culture of this design facility is very supportive. It's not like anything else; the guys are not cutthroat, they're very supportive of each other's work, but they all strive to win the design. So the fact that the culture is very embracive and supportive. And I would have to say friendly-competitive, not in-your-face. Not edgy. We have a lot of fun here.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? So few people know about car design, and then the guys who know about it have always dreamt about doing it. So early on, like in high school, no one knows about it. I went to college for four years before I found out about it. So more could be done in the primary school years to raise awareness.
Tell us about your family. I don't have family out here; I just have my two kids, who are twins, a boy and a girl. I moved here from Michigan. But my family does come to visit, and I make sure to take my kids back to Michigan for summer vacation and for winter. They love the snow. My brother lives up near the Crystal Lake [Mich.] area and every winter as soon as we unload the car, mom makes the luge. It's 180 feet down this steep slope and I make it go flying. We set up lights so we do it at night. It's a different experience there. Here they have the beach all the time.
But they're a handful. They just went to Florida to compete in Muay Thai kickboxing and they both won a belt bigger than their head. So they keep me busy. My daughter, ever since she was 4, she said, "I'm going to be a cop." And as she's gotten older, she's changed that to an FBI agent. So she's got the Muay Thai, and she's a fantastic shooter.
What's your favorite weekend activity? It depends on what my kids and I have planned. Usually it's a day at the beach, sometimes it's just to have friends over and I feed them and feed them and feed them. They're monsters about eating. And also my son is really interested in cooking so we like to cook together.
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I'm a really good seamstress. I come from a long line of — my aunts are all upholsters and sewers and stuff. To put myself through school, I was a men's tailor at a tailor shop in northern Michigan.
What's your guilty pleasure? Lounging by the pool with a cool glass of lemonade — spiked.
By David Undercoffler