Yazaki North America
What attracted you to the auto industry? My first move to automotive was for a promotion with my last company. I was working for Alcoa Fujikura in Pittsburgh and they asked me to come to Detroit to work for an automotive business unit that was making an acquisition. It was a big challenge, a step up and the side benefit was I got to come home to Michigan. Automotive, to me, was neutral at the time.
First automotive job: That [Alcoa] job. I was regional human resources manager helping to integrate this acquired company in Dearborn. This was in 1995.
Big break: I worked for a gentleman who was running the business in Dearborn and he gave me the chance to do a lot of things. I think the break was I did a good job for him in HR and he saw potential in me, but he also wanted to keep me in his business unit and a good way to do that is to give me development experience, challenges and other things to do. He moved me, eventually, to a general management job and I've been on the general management side most of the 20 years since then.
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? There are a few, but probably many of us would say the 2008-09 downturn was a huge challenge. I was in a customer-facing job at the time heading a business unit and was asked by Yazaki to take three business units and consolidate them into one. At the same time I was navigating through those years with GM, Ford and Chrysler because those were the customers. Also, helping our headquarters in Japan understand what was happening in this market, what the risks were and what the reasonable steps were that we should be taking to support the customer and make sure we survive intact and were in the right position after those dark days. And we did. Our business grew immediately after the bankruptcies.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Our retired CEO George Perry. George was critical to bringing me to Yazaki in 2000. He was behind a lot of my movement within the company.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We have to keep demonstrating that the auto industry is a technology industry. It's a consumer products industry. There's an excitement and an opportunity in the business. It can be many different paths. The auto industry is really about results and relationships. If you can be trusted and you know how to get things done in the right way, then opportunities will come. There are more and more groups that reach out to women. There are initiatives through Inforum and other groups to show young women that there are opportunities here.
Tell us about your family. In 2005, the first time I was part of the Leading Women group, the reporter asked me what am I most proud of and I said my family. Our oldest son was 9 and our youngest son was 7. We made the choice that my husband would be a full-time dad. At that point, you're in the thick of it. They're not little babies anymore and there's some challenge there. I was traveling a lot. At that time, I thought we're doing that well and I'm doing a good job at work and being rewarded for it. If I had the work piece and things weren't going well at home, it'd be a whole different story. I would say the same thing today now that they're 19 and 17. My husband is still home full-time and I'm still traveling and working a lot of hours, so we have our days, but that [family] part of our life is very critical and important [if a person is] to do a good job. So we're really lucky to have that.
What's your favorite weekend activity? Running with my dog.
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I'm a Prince fan.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? My dad. He was an automotive guy and he died 10 years ago, so he saw me sort of halfway through. That would be a good conversation and he probably has some words of wisdom.
By Jamie LaReau