Jennifer Marrocco had been in the auto industry for more than a decade, and at Inteva Products for more than three years, when in 2012 she was asked to take on a new role: a two-year assignment in global purchasing, based in Germany.
“It was the most difficult move I ever made, both from a career and a personal standpoint,” says Marrocco. “I had never done purchasing before, let alone living overseas. It was the most challenging experience I’ve ever had, but it forced me to deal with adversity. I learned the most from that experience, and I would do it all over again.”
Marrocco says that experience reinforced one key belief, a belief she shares with those who ask for her career advice. “I suggest to anyone—women, minorities or even men—that you don’t let fear hold you back from taking an opportunity,” she says. “If there’s a new opportunity and it scares me, to me that means I sure as hell ought to take it.”
Marrocco left Inteva to join Adient in 2016 and now serves as VP, GM and West Coast business units for the global manufacturer of automobile seating. She was named an Automotive News Rising Star in 2018.
Growing up in Pontiac, Mich., in an economically challenged community, “I didn’t come from much,” she says. Marrocco was unsure what she wanted to do when she grew up, but was strong in math and science in high school—and so she put herself through college, earning an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. She started her career at Detroit Diesel, and then was recruited by Ford, where she spent seven years working in supply chain and in finance before moving to Inteva and then Adient.
Marrocco says she doesn’t view herself as a feminist per se, and she usually doesn’t dwell on being a woman in the business. But she says she went to a recent industry meeting and realized that of about a hundred people in the room, one was a black man and three were women—“and two of those worked for the company putting on the meeting,” she says. “The rest of the room was all white men in suits.
“The industry is changing, but we’re not there yet. It’s important for women to use their voice and add their perspective. That perspective is important for the industry, too.”
Mentoring and networking is key. “We have to band together and share ideas, our experiences of being women in a male-dominated environment,” she says. “It’s up to us women who have had some success to identify other women who want it, who are driven and smart. I’ll try to find women below me in the organization and pull them up with me, get them visibility.”
She says she’s benefited from that kind of attention from various mentors, both women and men, but points to two in particular. Mary Foster, a VP at Ford, “took me under her wing,” Marrocco says. “She had been at Ford for a long time, and knew what it was like working in a true man’s world. She made it a point to move women along, and I’ve tried to emulate the things she did.” Marrocco also gives credit to Jan Griffiths, another leading woman in the auto supplier world, with whom she worked at Inteva. “Jan is so comfortable in her own skin. She taught me a lot about owning it—figuring out what you want to do and just doing it,” Marrocco says.
She says the days of women in the auto industry trying to emulate a man—wearing blue suits and ugly shoes—are over. “Today, it’s ok to say, ‘I’m a woman and here I am’,” she says. “Be yourself.