100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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Barb SAMARDZICH

Vice President, Powertrain Engineering • Ford Motor Co. • Age 51
 
 
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Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I was a trailing spouse. I had started my career at Westinghouse Electric. My husband and I were both there and went to graduate school at the same time. My husband was recruited by Ford Motor Co. When they offered him a job, he told them he had to think about it because his wife would have to find a job. When he told them I was an engineer, I had a job with them in three days.

I did not set out to work in the auto industry. But I did want to be a mechanical engineer. I was focused on companies that would leverage my mechanical engineering expertise.

First automotive job: My first job was at Ford in the engine organization in front-end accessory drive. That was in 1990.

Proudest professional achievement: That's a tough one because Ford has given me so many opportunities. My proudest achievement now is getting EcoBoost engines into vehicles and into customer vernacular. Delivering those engines and seeing the kind of reception we've gotten in the marketplace has been very rewarding because it's an environmental strategy that means a lot to me.

It's personal to me to make sure our environmental statements are meaningful.

Prior to that, I'd say it was my work on the 2005 Mustang. I was vehicle line director on that project.

Current challenge at work: This year for me is a tactical, not strategic, challenge. We have so many launches going out the door. We have the Explorer getting ready now. We're doing 15 all new or major upgrades on powertrains. It's unprecedented. Normally, we do two a year.

From a longer-term strategic perspective, the biggest challenge is maintaining the momentum on our CO2 footprint and fulfilling the objectives we have set for ourselves as a company.

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? When I started at Westinghouse, I actually found that to be a difficult environment for me to meet my career goals. That was one of my reasons for leaving.

When I came to Ford I found an incredibly supportive culture. It's not the automotive industry at all that holds back women. It starts way back to when girls are in junior high school and high school. It's getting them to focus on engineering that's hard. Right now only about 17 percent of women graduate with an engineering degree.

But it's a fantastic industry that provides a great technical challenge for engineers, and it's got consumer-used product. But engineering has a way to go before it attracts the number of women that we see being attracted to other fields like medicine and law.

Dream job: I have my dream job. I tell my husband, "I guess if I gotta work this is the thing to do."

The amount of money I have responsibility for is huge, and the impact on the customer is even bigger. I'm getting all the benefits as if I were running my own company called the Ford Powertrain.

And at the end of the day I am an engineer, and I love engineering, but I also get to work on the tough business issues facing the industry.

I also really love that every day I see people driving our vehicles. I love the art of creating things, which is what engineers do.

On opening doors: My first opportunity that said this company will give me enough rope to demonstrate my skills one way or another was 15 years ago when they wanted someone with powertrain knowledge to run a whole vehicle program. It was called a chief nameplate engineer back then. Getting that job was a key enabler to show I could manage a full vehicle program.

My prior company wouldn't have taken that chance on me.

It was a niche program for the Super Duty trucks. But it opened a lot of doors for me because it showed Ford I could manage the whole program: chassis, powertrain and the business equation.

That eventually enabled me to get this job.

What you do to relax: I don't have a tremendous amount of extra time. I have a huge long list of things to do when I retire. One of them is to learn to play golf.

I have a 17-year-old son at home, and he's getting ready for college so I spend time with him on that. I spend a lot of time with my husband and my family.

I like to garden. I also exercise. I take long walk/runs for 3.5 to 5 miles a few times a week.

— Jamie LaReau

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