Metro Detroit's Most Powerful Women in Business


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Growing up in Detroit, Sue Cischke — Ford’s group vice president of sustainability, environment, and safety engineering — learned early on that everything in the region revolved around the auto industry.

Yet despite that fact, there weren’t a lot of women in the business — especially in the field of engineering — when Cischke entered the engineering program at Oakland University. Determined to succeed, Cischke landed her first job at Chrysler in 1976. She spent two decades with Chrysler, where she developed a reputation as an expert in safety and environmental technology. In 1998, Cischke left for Ford, where she has served as the company’s top environmental and safety officer since 2001.

Her climb up the corporate ladder came during a period of dramatic change within the domestic auto industry. In the mid-1970s, automakers were only reluctantly going along with new federal safety, pollution, and fuel-economy mandates. Today, however, companies like Ford race to deliver the best mileage, lowest emissions, and newest safety features.

Cischke concedes it can be a bit tougher for women to balance family and technical careers, but she says it’s not impossible to overcome those challenges. And although she’s quick to say, “I don’t like to stereotype,” Cischke says women bring critical skills to the engineering world notably “an awareness of how to work together as a team.” — Paul A. Eisenstein


Mary Sue Coleman never set out to be president of a public university. In fact, it was the furthest thing from her mind as a young girl growing up in the 1960s. Her passion was science, fueled by news about Sputnik and the space race.

But after working as a biochemist and an academic researcher at the University of Kentucky, she was asked to be the interim administrator of the university’s Cancer Center. It was a risk to shift positions, but Coleman says success often starts by taking a chance. “I believe (risk) is essential to moving forward and growing professionally,” she says.

The move dramatically shifted Coleman’s career from scientist to administrator. After working in administrative positions at several public universities, she was named president of the University of Iowa in 1995. In 2002, she was selected as the first woman president of the University of Michigan.

During her tenure at Michigan, the university has raised more than $3 billion — the most of any public university — as part of the Michigan Difference campaign. She’s also created links with Chinese academic institutions, and began a major initiative with Google to digitize the university’s 7-million-volume library.

With the state’s support of its universities dwindling because of the economic recession, Coleman is now measuring her success in how well she deals with two major concerns: maintaining the affordability of a college education, and securing the resources required to uphold U-M’s status as a world-class institution. — Fara Warner

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