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Sonia Rief

Nissan Technical Center North America

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Director of Vehicle Program Management, Nissan Technical Center North America
Farmington Hills, Mich.
Age: 39
Education: B.S., mechanical engineering, North Carolina State University; MBA, University of Michigan

What attracted you to the auto industry? I came in through car racing. I'm from Raleigh, N.C., and I got involved with Legends racing during college. Then I got into autocross track racing. General Motors came to interview at N.C. State and I ended up getting hired in 1998.

First automotive job: Working at General Motors' Proving Ground in Michigan in 1999.

Big break: The big moment was moving into a chief engineer job at Nissan, on the Frontier and Titan pickups.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? There was a vice president of r&d here at Nissan who always had great insight and good advice for me when I was trying to make choices. He helped me move into my first chief engineer job. He just retired a couple of years ago.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? It's a perception problem. The industry needs to do a better PR job. We need to let people see that it's not an old-fashioned conservative culture. We need to make sure young women see that creativity and innovation are fostered here. We women need to advertise ourselves better. We need to make ourselves more visible to show the world that there already are a lot of us in critical roles in the industry.

Tell us about your family. My husband and I are both from North Carolina. We moved up here without any family. He works for an automotive supplier now. We have a daughter who is 7 and our son is 9. We're a team of four. None of this works if your family isn't happy.

What's your favorite weekend activity? My first preference is always something the family can do together, preferably outdoors — camping, biking, skiing. A great weekend is taking the kids and riding our bikes to Dairy Queen.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Ayn Rand.
If I had it to do all over again, I'd … Do it the same way. I like what I've got going.
What advice would you give your child? Don't decide you can't — make someone else tell you. I give that advice to women here. I see them sometimes self-censor. They say, "I'm not ready," while their male counterpart will just jump in and say, "I can do it."

By Lindsay Chappell

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