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Julie Kurcz

Kia Motors America

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Executive Director of Product Quality, Kia Motors America
Irvine, Calif.

Age: 53

Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, Lehigh University; MBA, University of Detroit

What attracted you to the auto industry? I grew up fascinated by the automobile. I can recall spending time with my dad — an engineer — or playing with Matchbox cars and always having a passion and interest in cars.

First automotive job: Manufacturing process engineer at Ford in 1984

Big break: All the opportunities at Kia have been tremendous, but one of the programs that stands out was the 2011 Sorento at the all-new Kia Motors assembly plant in West Point, Ga. It was one of the proudest moments of my career because it was just very inspiring and collaborative, and we were working with a large number of folks, and it was exciting with the launch of both a vehicle and an assembly plant at the same time. That was quite a high point in my career.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? One of the challenges I've had has been to develop and grow exceptional talent. I'm a strong believer in collaboration and building excellent teams and that's been a tremendous focus in my career but also a challenge.

Acquiring talent, being a strong mentor; it's important to cultivate and to build our young technical people to want to be passionate about the auto industry and to want to grow and excel within the auto industry.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My current boss, John Crowe (vice president of service and aftersale operations). He's given me the opportunity to join Kia and grow my organization and to build a strong team and he has the confidence and trust in me to develop it into something I'm proud of. He's been very instrumental in giving me the opportunity to really push my organization to the limits and deliver the best quality products that I can.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? As female leaders, we certainly have a great opportunity to mentor young women engineers. It's important to lead by example and be advocates for women in the industry.

I look at myself to some extent as an ambassador to raise awareness of the cool opportunities in this line of work, in terms of attracting and maintaining great levels of talent. I find it rewarding to be in a position where I can be an advocate for women engineers and to encourage women to join the industry by communicating my life lessons.

Tell us about your family. I have a fabulous husband who has been an enabler and has really allowed me to have the career I've been fortunate enough to achieve. He's been my No. 1 fan. One of the great challenges that I have had is managing the work-life balance and with his support we've been able to strike a medium that works for us. That has been a challenge but hats off to my husband to really help me to turn into what I want to be personally.

I also have a 9-year-old son who's the light of my life. He keeps me young and keeps me active, with soccer games and swimming and he's quite the gymnast.

With my husband working full time, we've learned to appreciate and balance our time well.

What's your favorite weekend activity? My favorite weekend thing to do is spend time with my family, whether it's going to early-morning Saturday soccer games — I love to grab coffee and watch him play — or long walks with the dog. Sometimes we'll go to the beach, swim in our pool, just generally spend time together.

If I have time, I like to cook and bake. I don't do it nearly enough but I like to do a little baking in the kitchen with my son. We come up with some interesting results.

What keeps you up at night? Professionally, I'm up at night thinking about how best to listen and consider the voice of the customer in everything I do and execute that with the best quality possible. I'm also thinking how to attract the best talent, how to train my team and lead by example and be a better listener and the strongest communicator as possible.

And I'm up a lot from a personal perspective, thinking about how I best manage my time and be the best wife and mother. I also have an aging mom so I'm a daughter that needs to spend extra time with a parent.

By David Undercoffler

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