2016 Powered by Women
DBusiness readers nominated eight metro Detroit women who hold leading positions in the automotive industry, sponsorships and event planning, health care, logistics, insurance, and nonprofit organizations.
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Global Director of Sales
Exhaust Systems, GM, Faurecia, Auburn Hills
Employees: 100,000 | Revenue: $23.8B
Eight years into her career as an engineer and engineering manager at Dana Corp., Rachel Fortenberry was interviewing for a chief engineer position — but the sales vice president insisted she move into sales. “He said, ‘Wait a minute. You cannot go to engineering. You have to do sales,’” she says. “He wouldn’t let me take the chief engineer job; he wanted me in sales.”
A native of Brazil, Fortenberry graduated magna cum laude from Paulista University in Sao Paulo with a degree in mechanical engineering (while working as a co-op with Volkswagen Brazil). Upon graduating, she joined Dana’s Sao Paulo Axle Division as a product engineer in 1987. Two years later, she moved to the Spicer Clutch Division in Detroit.
“Dana had a program where they would swap members around the world for training, and I was one of the few there who spoke English so I was selected to come to the U.S.,” she says. In 1992, she was promoted to account manager for major U.S. accounts at GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Along the way she became a U.S. citizen, got married, and had two children; from 1995 to 1999, she was a stay-at-home mom.
When she returned to work, Dana sent her to Sao Paulo to be general sales manager for the Fluid Systems Division. But the following year, she and her husband (also with Dana) moved to Minas Gerais in Brazil. “He moved to a different company,” she says, “and we were in this little town where there was not much automotive (work), so I thought I would try something different.
“I opened this little business, a deluxe small restaurant next to a grocery store in a busy area where we made and marketed our own brand of ice cream. I wanted to learn how to run a business and do the books. It was a good experience and a great lesson in finance. I learned that your fixed costs have to be low because your sales will vary.”
After Fortenberry and her husband were divorced in 2002, she sold the business, moved back to the United States, and took a job with Troy-based ArvinMeritor as sales manager of suspension modules and modular door systems, again working with GM, Ford, and Chrysler. “I wanted to raise my kids in the U.S., so I (came) back. My professional godfather at Dana had moved to ArvinMeritor, and when I met with him, he told me this was the place to be.”
She was promoted in 2003 to sales and program manager for GM passenger car and light truck exhaust systems, before moving to a platform manager job (also for GM car and truck exhaust systems) at Emcon Technologies in 2008. She assumed her current position in 2010 when Faurecia acquired Emcon.
Today, Fortenberry travels extensively to support global teams in Europe, China, Korea, and Brazil. Fluent in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, she has, at times, served as a delegate for the vice president of the GM Business Unit.
A Corvette enthusiast, she says the best thing about her job is working with cars, and her toughest challenge is the need to balance internal with external customer demands. “I believe in my team members — that everyone is giving me 110 percent — and I’m very flexible. I like to be more of a coach than a boss, and work side by side with them.”
How has she balanced raising children with the long hours and travel her career has demanded? “My parents came to live with me for a few years after my divorce, and I moved next door to my sister. My (new) husband is a great stepdad, and doesn’t travel as much as I do, so it’s a great partnership. I always joke with my friends and say that if a pilot gets sick and I have to land the plane, that’s easy compared to being a single mom and doing a good job in automotive. I always felt that I had to paddle a little faster than everyone else.” — Gary Witzenburg