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Lisa Frary

Autoliv North America Division

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Vice President of Quality, Autoliv North America Division
Auburn Hills, Mich.
Age: 53
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, University of Wyoming

What attracted you to the auto industry? I started my career in the aerospace industry. It was really exciting because it was highly technical and very challenging. But after about seven years, we went through the downturn. I had an opportunity to design and build airbags for the automotive industry. And that was really exciting to be able to save lives.

First automotive job: Product design engineer for modular airbags at Morton International, which is now Autoliv

Big break: When I was plant manager for the Autoliv-Morton auto facility [in 1999], we had decided to implement lean manufacturing. We called it the AutoLiv production system, and it was based on the Toyota Production System. We had help from a customer, but as a management staff, we had to figure out, what is lean manufacturing, and how do we apply it? It was challenging. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, but the sense of accomplishment as an entire team, as an entire staff, is one of the most rewarding things I've had in my career.
We won the Shingo Prize, which recognizes excellence in manufacturing. What we accomplished was amazing — 90 percent reduction in quality issues, 50, 60, 70 percent improvement in efficiency. It was probably the most cohesive and most functional team that I've been a part of.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? Our company's commitment to quality balanced with the extreme pressure in the automotive industry to cut cost and weight. Sometimes it means we have to make decisions where we don't get business, and that's tough. But you have to stick up for what you think is right personally and then as a company. One thing that's good in Autoliv is I've never had that conflict of what I thought was right and what the company thought was right, but it is a conflict in the industry.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Mike Ward, former president of Autoliv Americas. He was my boss about four or five different times, and he was the first one to get me into operations. In my initial career, I always thought of myself as an engineer, technical, doing the analyses. He convinced me to take a position in the plant, and I loved it.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? It starts with high school. How do we get young women interested in math and science? How do we get them to pursue degrees such as that in college, and then, how do we convince them that this is really a friendly environment for women? It's a tough environment, but it's a tough environment for everyone, not just women. But it's a rewarding business.

Tell us about your family. I have a husband. I've been married to him for a lot of years. I have one son. He's 21. My husband was also a mechanical engineer. He actually put in a large number of the facilities at our Promontory, Utah, location, which is where we produce propellant. As our son started to get a little older, I was a plant manager. My husband was working, and it was just too much. So he decided to be a stay-at-home dad and take care of our son. That's allowed me to move in my career. My son is following in his mom and dad's footsteps as a mechanical engineer. He goes to Kettering University.

What's your favorite weekend activity? Fishing, boating, ATV riding, snow skiing.

When and where was your last vacation? France. It was September of last year. My husband and I went to Normandy and Paris.

What advice would you give your child? Always be honest and upfront in all your dealings.

By Hannah Lutz

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