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Plant Manager, Dundee Engine Plant, FCA US
Dundee, Mich.
Age: 60
Education: B.A., history, University of Detroit; master's, management supervision arts – business, Central Michigan University

What attracted you to the auto industry? My father. He was a trainer for a time at the old Chrysler Institute, but he always loved Chrysler. I graduated from the University of Detroit, and I wanted to be a history professor, but in the 1970s, there were no jobs. I was working the night shift at Burger King, and one day my dad showed up and said, "Come on, you're going to buy a suit, and you're going to go get a job as a foreman tomorrow." I said, "Dad, what the hell is a foreman?" He said, "It doesn't matter. It pays a lot of money."

First automotive job: I worked as a foreman on the trim line at Dodge Truck (Warren Truck Assembly). They couldn't hire women fast enough. The average woman they hired lasted about a week and went out of there screaming. My dad's only advice was, "Whatever you do, don't cry." And I didn't. I would cry all the way home.

Big break: Probably getting laid off and getting picked up at Mopar the next day. I survived two years at Dodge Truck and held my own. But I got laid off in 1979, and I thought that I would go back to grad school, but literally that afternoon, I got a call for three interviews at Mopar. I was an anomaly: I was a woman with supervisory experience, and I had a degree. Back then, a lot of plant managers didn't have a degree. That Monday, I had interviews for three jobs at Mopar; I was offered all three, and I picked one. It was a break in that I got experience in doing something beyond assembly line foreman. Mopar was different. It was a better world.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? The hardest thing was to grow and understand my own personality and style and be comfortable with that, and not try and emulate the men. To learn to be a good leader because of me, and not trying to be like the men or somebody else.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My father. I think one of the keys to my success is being able to work in a man's world with men, and I attribute that to my father. I'm the oldest of his four daughters, and he kind of raised me as his son. He instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. And I also learned from hanging around with my dad that men are a little different. They think differently, and that's OK. I'm very comfortable with the differences between men and women. I don't begrudge any of it. I work with it. And I attribute that to my dad.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We're doing it now. We have internship programs, summer replacement programs. In manufacturing, we're doing a pretty good job. I tell women that it's not for everybody. You make choices in life. Leadership is very satisfying, but it's not for everyone. There are easier paths to take as women.

Tell us about your family. I'm married to Andy, my best friend of 27 years. We have three wonderful daughters: Kathryn is 25; Elizabeth is 24; and Christina is 21. We're very close. My eldest daughter works for Chrysler in finance leadership development. They all went to Catholic schools their whole lives.

What's your favorite weekend activity? Being with my family, gardening and reading. That's all I do. And cleaning the house. I like cleaning the house. I iron sheets. I like work. I don't know how to relax. The most relaxing thing I can do is read.

When and where was your last vacation? Last summer, I took two of my three daughters to Rome for a week. It was a great trip. The third one had just started a new job and couldn't get off work. I love to travel in Europe.

What advice would you give your child? To believe in yourself, have strong faith and strong family and know who your support group is so that you have confidence. And always work hard.

By Larry P. Vellequette

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