Women's Leadership Forum

The Michigan Women’s Business Council presented the 7th Annual Michigan Women’s Business Conference and Expo held at The Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, Michigan. As President of AWAF and a co-sponsor of this event, I was invited to participate in the Women’s Leadership Forum. This forum was to discuss how the leading national business organizations are working to advance the interests of women business owners and Women Business Enterprises (WBE). I thoroughly enjoyed my participation and thought you would enjoy my comments:

The Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation or AWAF is proud to be a sponsor here today. As President of the non-profit organization, AWAF, and as President of my company QuadWest Associates, LLC, I was asked to prepare to answer this question:

Would you share with us the status of women in the automotive industry as well as how women business owners can use AWAF to advance their businesses?

The second part of this question – sharing how women business owners can use AWAF to advance their businesses – is easy. I will be happy to answer this.

The first part of this question – Share with us the status of women in the automotive industry” – is about as much fun as answering “How much do I weigh?”

The answer for both is personal…

And can best be answered with

“Well I have come a long way and I have some more work to do!”

I take the status of women in the Automotive Industry personally. It is the Automotive Industry that gave me tremendous experiences, a beautiful home, a great Cadillac CTS to drive, a well funded 401K with GM stock…

My first job out of college was with General Motors as a College Grad in Training in 1979.

My last job in a corporate position was with a $165 million joint venture company serving Delphi as the President in 2004.

Every position in between was directly tied to the Automotive Industry. I did climb the corporate ladder from payroll clerk roles to Supervisor roles, to General Manager to VP to President.

The climb was a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs.

There are three key insights I gained from looking back over my career in automotive that are serving me well even now as an Entreprenuer:
1) I took risks. When I was with MSX we had an opportunity to quote opening an office in Mexico City to support GM. We won the project, I saw it as an opportunity to create MSX de Mexico and run the office in Mexico.

Shall I name the RISKS – my company was unsure of just how profitable this “GM win was”, I would be leaving behind a job I knew well, I did not speak Spanish, my family – a husband and two sons 7 and 10 lived here in Troy, Americans doing business in Mexico City were a target for crime…
I once again sought the job and got it – not sure anyone else wanted it! This position made the difference in my career – I stepped up and demonstrated leadership with a successful launch and profitability for MSX deMexico with in six months! My confidence blossomed.

2) I made requests and choices that suited me. I took ownership of my career.

I took the opportunity for a buyout from GM when I felt my career there was not working and my personal family needs demanded more attention.

Another time… I said to my boss “I am curious why we have VP’s in the corporate offices with folks who are not bringing in revenue, and he has team members like my self who have $60 million in annual revenue coming into the company who are General Managers…”

Then there was the time I was demoted from Sales VP to a Manager during a company restructuring working for someone who had been my peer. I immediately knew this was not going to work for me. Knowing that my relationship with Delphi, the client, my relationship with the joint venture company, TechCentral, supporting Delphi and that a critical contract renewal was coming up, I quickly asked a few of my trusted colleagues to help pull together a plan for me to be formally selected as President for TechCentral. I took action to turn an uncomfortable position into a win – not only for me but also for the client and my company as the contract was renewed for another three years and we won Delphi’s Supplier of the Year Award a year later.

3) I delivered results. I made a habit early in my career of tracking my progress to action plans, to quantifying the numbers – Days Outstanding, Customer Satisfaction, Number of Hires, Turnover, Revenue, Profit and yes sometimes Losses – those early 90’s were very tough years and then again in 2000 – I knew what my numbers were and over time I became better at sharing my results with management.
Now when I look back at these 3 key insights –
1) taking risks – taking a path no one else wanted
2) making requests and taking ownership of my career choices, and
3) delivering results, being accountable

I did not always realize what I was doing at the time, but I did trust my gut when I new action was needed even when I was unsure of what it should be or what the outcome would be if I took it.

I share my personal story with you because I believe there is a strong undercurrent of activity all throughout the Automotive Industry. Women are succeeding and making a difference in their positions and are doing so below the radar screen. I encourage women to take ownership, ask for more, take risks and be accountable.

When I look back to when I started in General Motors and the number of women in key positions within the company and within the supplier community, it was difficult to find enough women to count them off the five fingers on one hand. Now we can easily count more than 10 hands worth easily.

Is this progress? Absolutely! Is it enough progress? No!

We must take the status of women in the automotive industry personally. Personally we must look to see if we are contributing, stepping up to our own leadership capabilities.

“We have come a long way and we have some more work to do”

Now to answer how women business owners can use AWAF to advance their businesses…

AWAF is an organization dedicated to that advancement of women in the global automotive industry. AWAF is unique in that:
we Champion Women and since 1991 have given close to $80000 in scholarships to over 30 women pursuing careers in automotive.

we provide Access to Powerful Women through our Executive Advisors and the diversity of roles in our membership representing Manufacturing, Marketing, Dealerships, Finance, Sales Business Development, Human Resources and many more…

we provide Networking and Relationship Building opportunities with Top Women Automotive Executives. Our events are more intimate and our panelists are very open and approachable sharing of their lessons learned from doing business in Automotive

and we provide an opportunity for Members to share experiences, learn from one another, give back to other women in meaningful ways.

One of our members was seeking a pay raise and gained invaluable insight from her peers in understanding her value and how to craft her message to her boss powerfully. She got her raise.

Another member was pricing out a proposal for new and expanded services that would take her business to the next level. Through discussions with AWAF members, she realized she was underbidding the value of her services and became confident with new knowledge to bid the business higher than she had imagined and won the client!

We do business with one another. I personally have used the services of several of our members and just last week have connected one of members with one of my clients.

It is these kind of experiences that make me proud to serve AWAF as its President. I invite you to become a member.

Speak Your Mind