Profiles of honorees

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Desi Ujkashevic

Ford Motor Co.

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Global Director, Body Interior Engineering, Ford Motor Co.
Dearborn, Mich.

Age: 48

Education: B.S. and M.S., engineering and MBA, marketing and finance, University of Michigan

What attracted you to the auto industry? When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, my father bought me a used Camaro, and it was pretty beat up. We had to rebuild the entire vehicle and it took us almost a full year. I thought it was really cool, and I developed a real passion for cars and for safety and so the two sort of came together.

First automotive job: I joined Ford in 1991 as a Ford College Graduate employee, Ford's trainee program. I rotated across various departments, including design and release and testing. I did that for two years.

Big break: Moving to the quality organization and taking a job that was outside of my experience. That enabled me to actually have a broader influence, but also to visualize how I could shape the company. We were then in a place where we were defining the organization and really how we wanted to execute product and it was just a real fresh perspective.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? The move to Germany for an international service assignment. When I was offered the position, my response was an immediate, "I am honored at the offer but must decline as it would be a burden on my family," especially for my oldest daughter who was just starting her sophomore year in high school. My leader suggested I think about it and discuss with my family, which I did. My family, and most notably my oldest daughter, really wanted us to take this assignment. I felt torn as I was asking my family to make major life changes for me. We decided it was a good opportunity, and off we went.

The entire three-year experience, both the growth professionally and the time as a family we had abroad, was most memorable and really turned what appeared to be a major career stress point into one that we all now consider a life highlight.

What appears somewhat insurmountable in the moment in one's career — or life — may offer more enrichment than one can imagine.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We need to continue to give women exposure to the industry. There are so many wonderful opportunities in the innovation side alone.

Tell us about your family. I'm married, I have four children and I have a wonderful support structure. I've been at Ford 24 years and they've kind of grown up with my career, if you will. My family is very important to me. I would not be where I am without their incredible support.

What's your favorite weekend activity? I love to swim. If I could find time to swim or be on the beach, sit on the sand, I don't need anything else.

Best advice you've ever gotten? To explore options that may not be obvious to you.

By Nora Naughton

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