What attracted you to the auto industry? I was born, raised and lived around the auto industry — my grandfather and father worked in the industry. I was a bit defiant and thought I should do something else. Originally I went to school to be a teacher, but eventually I came back to the industry I grew up in and saw opportunities. That's when I switched gears and decided to go to business school, and I ended up in the place I was always meant to be.
First automotive job: Material control analyst when I was a sophomore in college. We used to make buses in Pontiac, but it's no longer there.
Big break: I don't know that I recall one. I remember just always having really good opportunities and challenging assignments. I put my head down and worked hard and the big assignments came and I used them to build my experience base as I moved along. I look at my career as a series of a lot of little breaks.
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? I would have to say when I moved from my global purchasing position. I was in global purchasing for 21 years and I did a lot while I was there. I was offered the opportunity to work in manufacturing and engineering, and that cross-functional move was the biggest challenge I had to take on in my career.
When I weighed the pros and cons as I made my decision, the biggest con was the fear of failure. That wasn't reason enough for me in the end, so I took the job. At first, I didn't know then the test it would be. I thought I had been tested when I moved jobs in the past, but I had never been tested like that.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My family. I was raised in a basic middle-class family. My parents didn't go to college. But they told me I could do anything and be anything. It was just about being me, nothing to do with being female. They taught me to push hard for what I wanted.
Now I have a wonderful supportive husband and children. I can balance everything I do because they support me. That support system allows me to bring my whole self to work every day and give 100 percent to both my family and my company.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Maybe we need to expose young women to the industry more, but I don't know if it's just women. We need to attract more young people too. It's not an industry that can compete so well with technology companies and what [young] people are looking for now.
Tell us about your family. I am married to my high school sweetheart. We're married 24 years in October. We have two children: a daughter who is a junior in college at MSU and a son who is entering senior year in high school. I also got a cute dog to be ready for empty nesting, but it won't be too bad because all of our family is local. That's also part of my strong support system.
What's your favorite weekend activity? I like to cook. On the weekend when my family is ready to go out to eat I always keep them in. But they don't complain too much. Actually by Friday they are all arguing and debating about what I should cook on Sunday. I love to cook and entertain. I'm a little old-fashioned in that I think food is love.
If I had it to do all over again, I'd ... I wish I would have lived and worked outside the U.S. before things got so complicated with the age of my kids and where I was at.
Best advice you've ever gotten? Never let them see you sweat, even in moments when you feel the least confident. Sometimes you have to fake it. That has really served me well. You have to be confident and be yourself.
By Nora Naughton