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Karen E. Folger

Bosch Automotive Service Solutions

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Vice President, Original Equipment Services Sales, North America, Bosch Automotive Service Solutions
Warren, Mich.

Age: 52

Education: B.S., technical writing, Eastern Michigan University

What attracted you to the auto industry? I wanted to write for a living, so what attracted me was the opportunity to use that degree and write.

First automotive job: Writing a service program for service technicians on climate-control systems in 1986 at DeVilbiss Corp. in Toledo, Ohio

Big break: There was so much change happening in the industry. The OEMs needed to go outside to supplier partners for help. I worked for a really small firm, and that gave us the opportunity to do something that we never would have gotten to do. I was our only full-time staff writer, and we ended up building a $10 million company.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? It's really hard to balance your professional ambition and objectives along with trying to build a family. I started working with no children, and now my kids are all 20 and up, so their entire childhood was my working life.

Professionally, it has been how do we stay relevant in an industry that is changing this fast?

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Honestly, it's my customers. I have the chance to work with every major automotive manufacturer with some really prominent people, whether they're at the head of the service division or the head of warranty or the head of sales and marketing. These are the people who make decisions that impact the whole industry.
We have a unique vantage point to see how each of them is solving similar problems and being a part of helping solve them. That influences and inspires me regularly.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? I support the concept and initiatives around STEM. That's a huge component. But what I think is missing is the cool factor. When you look at the technology that we're working on at Bosch — and we're certainly not alone — the automotive industry is going to change dramatically in the next 10 to 20 years with autonomous driving, remarkable advancements in safety and changes in technology. This is a really cool place to be, and this is going to change the way we move.

Tell us about your family. I got the luck of the lottery when I was born. I was born to two hardworking people. It didn't occur to them there were things you couldn't do.

My mom was a nurse for 40-plus years, and my dad did a million things: He sold cars, he had his own service station, he was a service manger, and toward the end of his life, he drove a cab. What he never did was be out of work. He was a very hardworking guy.

I had an older sister who died at a relatively young age, 41, and I have a brother. We grew up in Toledo, Ohio. That was my family at birth. My other family, my husband and I, have three adult sons, 20, 22 and 25.

What's your favorite weekend activity? I like to hike. We have a dog, a Chinook, and we hike with him every weekend 4 or 5 miles, twice a day. And hanging out with the family, whenever we can.

Are you able to maintain friendships? I married young, had children in my late 20s, was a single mom for a while. For me, finding time to spend with my family, my kids, my mom after my dad died, my sister died, that was enough. We certainly do have friends, but that's not our primary focus.

At some point, you realize your kids grow up and move on and you're not working anymore. Then I suppose you have to start over at the friend making. But the priority has always been about family.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? That would be my sister. I lost her at 41. She was four years older than me. She's missed a lot.

What's your guilty pleasure? Hunkered down under the covers with a glass of Scotch and a good book; that's me time.

Name one talent you wish you had. I would like to be more athletic, because I think with athleticism comes longevity. I tend to be a fairly clumsy person.

By Arlena Sawyers

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