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Alicia Boler-Davis

General Motors

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Senior Vice President, Global Connected Customer Experience, General Motors

Age: 46

Education: B.S., chemical engineering, Northwestern University; M.S., engineering science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

What attracted you to the auto industry? I grew up in Detroit, and I always liked cars. When I had an opportunity to come back home and to work in an industry that had a huge impact on my career and on me starting in engineering, I decided to take it.

First automotive job: I worked for Ford Motor Co. as a systems engineer while in college.

Big break: It was becoming the chief engineer and vehicle line director on the Chevrolet Sonic while I was also managing the Orion plant. I really had to stretch and refine my leadership style and drive change. I had been the plant manager in Lansing only for about three months. Then I got the phone call telling me, "You need to be the chief engineer and the vehicle line director on the Sonic. And by the way, you'll need to run Orion and get it renovated and ready to go. And it's got to be profitable." It was the most rewarding assignment that I've had.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? That Sonic-Orion assignment was challenging because I hadn't been in the pure engineering, product-development area for a long time. I had to come into a leadership role and guide the team in the technical and business aspects of the vehicle, while also working on culture in the manufacturing plant. Balancing the features and content of the vehicle to make sure it was profitable, and to do it under a tight timeline, was challenging.
Customer experience was another area that was totally new for me. And coming into [connected car] was the same. It's challenging to learn new areas of the business on the fly. But it's also what keeps me going.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? The first mentor that I had at General Motors, Bill Boggs. He joined GM when I was working in one of my first plant assignments. He was a great role model for me as a plant manager, but he also helped me along my career in identifying challenging roles for me. When I first met him, he had joined GM from Ford and had become plant manager at Detroit-Hamtramck. He ended up taking me under his wing and encouraged me to be a plant manager and work in different areas to gain different experiences and skills.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We have to do more of showing how women are holding significant positions across the industry.

If you look at GM, we have women in very, very key leadership roles, obviously. But we also have a number of women who we're bringing in at the entry level who are making a difference and have the ability to contribute. I think the more we highlight that this is an industry that welcomes women, where women can be successful and make a difference, it will become a more attractive option.

Tell us about your family. My husband, Fitzgerald, and I have two boys, 10 and 13. I also have a stepdaughter who's 24. We're all here in Michigan. We spend a lot of our time together with our boys going to sporting events. We like to ski and travel together. I was born in Detroit, so I have a lot of extended family also here. Family is central to our lives.

What's your favorite weekend activity? If I'm not attending sporting events, it's shopping.

Are you able to maintain friendships? Yes. It does take effort because of the time that you have available. Many of my friends also are career women. So it takes planning and coordinating of schedules. But texting and other technology helps.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I grew up in a single-parent home. My mom took care of four of us from the time I was 5. She worked 11-hour days. That forces you to have a level of independence and to figure things out on your own. You can't use it as an excuse for not achieving your goals.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Martin Luther King

Name one talent you wish you had. Singing. I have family members who are amazing singers. My husband is a great singer. And I'm terrible. It sounds good in my head, but then when it comes out, it's like, "Nobody is going to like that."

By Mike Colias

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