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Felicia Fields

Ford Motor Co.

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Group Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Ford Motor Co.
Dearborn, Mich.
Age: 50
Education: B.A., psychology, University of Michigan; M.S., administration, Central Michigan University

What attracted you to the auto industry? I was first a summer intern back in 1985. I thought the company was really interesting. My father had worked here, so I'm third generation. Both my grandfathers had.

First automotive job: Summer intern, age 20. I was actually hired in information technology, but I was pursuing a degree in psychology. So they let me work in things like training and needs assessment. At the time the only people who had computers were the people in the computing center. They had just made a decision with IBM to purchase computers for the engineers. So they were looking for someone who wasn't technical but could help them think about how they get engineers to use computers.

Big break: The person I replaced was Joe Laymon. The first time I worked for him, in about 2000 when he joined the company, he gave me the opportunity to interview for a position that was a couple of grades higher than I was at the time. Just to be a candidate to be interviewed was huge. Back then we were more inclined to pick people by their seniority and whose turn it was versus who we thought had the capability to do the work. I did compete for the job [as head of HR for product development], and I got it. That is really what opened up my career path.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? My appointment to the head of HR back in 2008, right ahead of the recession. We had been laying off employees by the thousands for a few years, which was challenging enough. Assuming that leadership role right before GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy was probably the most challenging period of my career. We were doing some unpopular things and working some extraordinary hours.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Alan [Mulally]. The leadership shift that we went through, setting up the One Ford plan, our expected behaviors, really monitoring the culture, how we work, being very included as a business leader versus just an HR professional. Being on the senior team and him including everyone in that transformation was really impactful.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We need to be out telling our story more about what's here. This industry is incredibly interesting. It's full of a lot of diversity, a lot of technology, a lot of things that are fueled by insight and relationships and working together. It's a place where women's skill sets can be used and valued in enormous ways.

Tell us about your family. My husband was with Ford and he is now with Visteon, which spun off from Ford. We have two children. My daughter's 24; she has her bachelor of fine arts in graphic design, and my son is studying hospitality business at Michigan State University. He's a junior. My daughter works for Aquent, which is a creative services company, and her assignment is actually at Ford. She works with our electrified powertrain group.

What's your favorite weekend activity? I like shopping. I like gourmet foods and kitchen stuff. I love to cook. I can spend three hours in a really good market debating between what types of apples or what new thing or new spice.

What keeps you up at night? I've just learned that the world is as it is. Every day there's going to be something incoming, but you just put a plan together and you work on it. I don't know if I'm losing sleep over it, but I'm concerned that there's not enough STEM talent - science, technology, engineering and math - for all the work and to fuel the dreams and the business plans that not only we have in this industry but in our nation, in our world. I just think there's more we have to do to get more women, more under-represented minorities and people in general sticking with STEM fields.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. The fact that I'm introverted because I do so much public speaking and I facilitate a lot of meetings. My function, in HR, you're welcoming people, but my preference is really to be alone and read stuff and go deep and, like I say, lose myself for a few hours in a market, just me and the fruit, not me and my 20 closest friends.

If I had it to do all over again, I'd … I might have paused a few more times just to reflect on how wonderful it was along the way. When you're quite young, I think people and society focus you on what's next instead of what's exciting about what you're doing right now.

I'm one of those few people who's come all the way up through one company, from intern to corporate officer - that's kind of rare. I've never lived more than 50 miles from where I was born, which is also kind of rare. I don't think there will be too many people who will grow up inside of Ford the way I did, in that same mold, because the world has changed so much. But it's been an incredible company, an incredible journey, and hopefully there's a lot more excitement ahead.

By Nick Bunkley

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