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Doneen McDowell

General Motors

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Executive Director, Global-GMNA Vehicle Systems in Manufacturing Engineering, General Motors
Warren, Mich.
Age: 44
Education: B.S., industrial and systems engineering, Youngstown State University; M.S., manufacturing management, Kettering University

What attracted you to the auto industry? My first job interview out of school was at EDS at GM Lordstown Assembly. I had never been in a manufacturing facility. I interviewed and they said I had to tell them before I left if I wanted the job.

First automotive job: The job was as an industrial engineer, contracted to GM, for the launch of the '95 Chevy Cavalier, working in the body shop. I liked the people aspect, working with team members on the floor. Trying to figure out how to process jobs so team members can build the product safely, meet the quality standards, in the cycle time, in a collaborative approach. I played sports my whole life. Manufacturing is like a sport to me — fast-paced, you have a common goal, you have to solve problems in a collaborative way.

Big break: When I was material director at Parma [stamping plant in Ohio] in 2005. That was my first role at a senior management level. I had a leader, Al McLaughlin, who empowered me to make decisions. It really gave me the opportunity to develop confidence in my abilities to drive change. And also to look outside of the plant for other areas I am passionate about. So I took on the topic of women in manufacturing, and we partnered with local high schools to get women exposed to manufacturing, and worked with nonprofits to help kids. That to me was the turning point, that hey, I can operate at this level, but also how to use that platform to reach out to the community.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? Navigating the challenge of moving when a new opportunity [at GM] comes up. It's not just a promotion for me because it impacts the people in our family. We've moved four times in the last 18 years. Luckily my husband has a master's degree and he's an electrical engineer, but every time we've moved he's had to find a new job. He's worked for some great companies but it is a strain on him. And we are raising kids. So as opportunities come up to move for my job, those are the challenging times.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? I've had some very strong leaders, but it all starts with Al McLaughlin, the plant manager in Parma. He was my leader during that turning point for me, and since then I've grown immensely.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? You need to start early. You need to look at STEM programs and high schools. Get in there and talk to young women and get them exposed to the careers that are out there. Once they're in college, partner with universities to get them internships where they can see what's available within the auto industry.

There's a ton of different jobs women can do in manufacturing. And then when you bring women in, you have to retain them, through mentorship, resource groups. Get them early, and then retain them and grow them. Women account for 65 percent of vehicle sales. So it's important that we have a diverse work force that reflects the consumers we're targeting.

Tell us about your family. My husband and I have three daughters. My oldest is a sophomore. My middle daughter is in middle school and plays travel soccer. And the youngest is in first grade.

With three kids, you've got the logistics of where everybody has to be each day. The challenge is how you find time with each one so you're getting quality time and not just managing chaos.I pick a different thing to do each year. Last year I coached my middle daughter's basketball team. This year I'll be a catechist teacher for my younger daughter. I try to find things so they see me in a different light, not just the traffic controller getting people from A to B to C.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I played college basketball from 1990-93. My dad was a high school basketball coach. I have two older brothers and all three of us got college scholarships.

Best advice you've ever gotten? One guy early in my career told me, "You have time. It's how you choose to spend it." It's about how you prioritize things, how you determine what you work on and what your people work on, and how you balance family and work. So it's really important to take ownership of your time.

By Neal E. Boudette

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