What attracted you to the auto industry? I was at an aircraft company working in composite materials. I got a call from a headhunter. He said: "Just talk to these folks." When I walked into the location, it was very diverse with women and men having senior roles. What struck me was it was very dynamic. With aircraft, it's a longer design cycle. With automotive, there was push for shorter cycles and to be more efficient. That was intriguing.
First automotive job: In 1993, I was a senior research and development engineer for Federal-Mogul. I worked in a lab developing new products for protection of tubing in wiring harness and cables.
Big break: When I went from a regional manager to a global position. Being a global company, having that opportunity as a young engineer to work with a diverse group of people from different regions and work together on a product that would be compatible across regions was very dynamic and a lot of fun.
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? The challenge for me is work-life balance. I've learned to seek out wisdom and try to find the perfect answer. But for me, it was finding the best thing to do for my family and for my career, in that order.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My mom. My mother raised nine children, and my father passed away when she was 50. When my father passed away, she still had four of the nine at home, and she had to go back to work outside the home. She decided to become a travel agent. I didn't realize it at the time because I was young, 18 or 19 years old, but when she was in her 70s we talked about it a lot, and she said she wanted to pick something that she loved.
Seeing that, I wanted to be able to take care of my family in case I was a single provider. She always influenced me to continue with my career.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Part of the reason that I appreciate this recognition is so that young women see the opportunities and diversity of careers in automotive. What I think should be done is to get to high schools and talk to young women and young men in math and science about the careers in automotive.
We need to get to them at the high school level and maybe at the end of grade school to get them thinking of careers in the auto industry.
Tell us about your family. I have three boys. One is going to be 30. He just was engaged to a wonderful young woman so we have a wedding coming up. The middle one is off to London, where he is beginning his second year of his master's program at the London School of Economics. And my youngest is on the West Coast working for Google. And of course my husband, Robert. I've been married for 32 years. I met him in high school, and he's been a big supporter of my career.
What's your favorite weekend activity? Cooking with my family, drinking red wine and exercising.
Are you able to maintain friendships? I'm very fortunate. I have a group of high school and grade school buddies, and we get together once a month on the weekends. They're great and very supportive when somebody is going through something. My sister calls it my second family.
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I am a quiet competitor.
Name one talent you wish you had. I have this desire to learn how to dance — I mean a real passion. It comes from always playing sports and always being active — that release. And I love the art form.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? The Dalai Lama. I'm not Buddhist, but I'm intrigued by his state of mind.
What's your guilty pleasure? Potato chips. I could do without cake and ice cream, but a bag of potato chips is serious.
By Ryan Beene