Powered by Women 2012

From automotive to information technology, more female business leaders are making their mark in the management ranks of major organizations. Others are fast-rising entrepreneurs overseeing dozens of employees. join us as we spotlight eight women business leaders in the region selected from nominations by our readers.

Mary Barra

Senior Vice President of Global Product Development // General Motors Co., Detroit
Revenue: $150.3 billion // Employees: 202,000

If Mary Barra felt pressure and scrutiny after being named General Motors Co.’s senior vice president of global product development in early 2011, she didn’t show it. She followed two legends: Tom Stephens, who held the position for two years, and Bob Lutz, who wrenched product design out of the hands of engineers. “I worked with Bob for years and have tremendous respect for him,” Barra says. “He did an excellent job of creating a culture and structuring global product development to be a design-focused organization, and I’m building on that. I still periodically talk to Bob, and he is incredibly supportive. I see it as a continuation, taking it to the next level.” The playing conditions in the auto industry are evolving, she adds, “so we have to stay attuned to what is changing. Right now (we are) continuing to enable great design and driving customer focus into the organization, down to every engineer, so they have a really good understanding of who the customers are for specific vehicle segments and brands. We have done a lot of work to have well-defined brands, and we have to make sure that we stay true to those brands and deliver on their promises, as well as doing the fundamentals right.” The fundamentals, Barra says, include quality improvement and problem-solving. “I am fanatical about mass reduction and driving that through the organization, because that causes so many positive things to happen, from performance to styling to fuel economy,” she says. Barra is a second-generation GM employee who started in a Pontiac assembly plant when she was 18 years old. Along the way, she earned an electrical engineering degree at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and an MBA from Stanford University. “From day one, I’ve had a passion for this business,” she says. Among her top priorities are ensuring integration of each vehicle to balance and optimize its attributes, and inviting participation from her entire team. “I want everyone’s views on the table and spirited debates, to make sure we look at things from all angles and get the very best solutions,” she says. What advice would she offer women in business? “Whatever business you’re in, whatever career you choose, love it, because you’ll spend so much time at it,” she says. “If you love what you do, you’ll be passionate about it and do it well, and that will show in your results and what you’re able to accomplish. I think you have to take on the core jobs and tough assignments so you’ll understand the core of the business. And I encourage young women to give math and science a fair shake in school, because they are core to so many career opportunities.” — Gary Witzenburg

Rose Peng

Manager of Revenue Management and Global Lifecycle Analytics // Ford Motor Co., Dearborn

Revenue: $128.2 billion // Employees: 164,000

When Mao’s Cultural Revolution turned life upside-down in China in the mid-1960s, Rose Peng’s father was “re-educated” in a labor camp while her mother stayed in Beijing to raise four children. “That had a lot of influence on who we are today,” Peng says. “She was a mother and an educator who worked hard and stayed strong for all of us. While my dad was going through that suffering, he never complained, and she taught us to stay positive.” Taking the high road worked. Peng graduated from Northern Jiaotong University as an engineer in 1984, worked at the Beijing Railway Bureau, then followed her husband to the United States in 1987 so he could continue his studies. “After going through what we did during the Cultural Revolution, we were not afraid of anything,” she says. “I thought it was my responsibility to come over to support my husband.” Peng worked at home, raised two daughters, and studied computer science and management online. In 1997, Ford hired her as a business analyst. She later became a residual improvement manager and, in 2005, she was chosen to oversee the automaker’s Global Lifecycle Analytics department. In 2011, her responsibilities expanded to include analytical leadership within Ford’s global marketing, sales, and service organization. The analytics department touches every aspect of the business and influences strategic decision-making. What advice does she offer businesswomen? “Always conduct company business as your own business, treat your employees as your own family, put your heart and soul into what you do at work every day, and always give your best effort so you will have no regrets later,” she says. “I feel that we have to earn respect, not expect respect.” — Gary Witzenburg

Linda Orlans

CEO // eTitle Agency, Troy

Revenue: $20 million // Employees: 190

Linda Orlans started her title company after helping her brother acquire and renovate a home in metro Detroit. “We had every problem you could think of, and I don’t think we made any money on the sale, but my brother said at the end of it: ‘Wow, look at how much we learned.’ ” A practicing attorney, Orlans began assisting friends and relatives with title problems, landlord-tenant issues, and rental agreements. “It wasn’t long before I started the title company, mostly to help people in poorer areas resolve mortgage issues,” says Orlans, CEO of eTitle Agency in Troy. Launched in 2000, eTitle now operates in nine states, with more expansion planned when the time is right. “We won’t expand unless we have the right people on board,” Orlans says. “We stay busy whether the housing market is up or down, and right now the market is picking up. During and after the recession, we did a lot of foreclosure work.” In its first year of business, eTitle did 100 closings. A steady flow of technology upgrades has boosted production and efficiency; last year, the company handled 10,000 closings. “It used to take up to 15 days to get all the documents for a closing,” Orlans says. “Now we can do it in a day. Our secret is hard work, hiring talented people, technology, and our training programs.” Michigan accounts for 75 percent of eTitle’s annual revenue. Over the last decade, Orlans says the housing market has changed drastically. “(Back then) we saw homes lose value, (and now) laws have been changed, and there’s more scrutiny of fraud — whether it’s by an appraiser, a real estate agent, or a broker,” she says. “When you sign a mortgage, you have to have trustworthy people around you.” b— R.J. King

Susan Goodell

President and CEO // Forgotten Harvest, Oak Park
Revenue: N/A // Employees: 60 // Volunteers: 5,500

Inside a refrigerated warehouse filled with hundreds of cases of tomatoes, boxes of redskin potatoes, and tons of tiny sausages — all rescued food — Susan Goodell, president and CEO of Forgotten Harvest, can only focus on the empty spaces where more food could be stored, prepared, and eventually distributed to relieve hunger across metro Detroit. The problem is monumental, and few understand the socioeconomic ramifications. “People are hungry, and society is unconscious of the large amount of food that is wasted every day,” Goodell says. Around 1 billion pounds of food in Detroit is wasted annually (96 billion in the U.S.). The nonprofit collects food, most of which would otherwise be thrown away, from more than 450 businesses — including grocery stores, farms, restaurants, caterers, Comerica Park and Ford Field, the casinos, and other establishments. Forgotten Harvest volunteers then prepare the food for those in need. Last year, more than 23.2 million pounds of food was given out at no charge to more than 160 emergency food provider agencies across metro Detroit, such as Focus: HOPE, the Salvation Army, churches, food pantries, and others. Since Goodell took the reins of the organization in 2000, the distribution of food has increased each year. By the end of this fiscal year (June 30), she was expecting to distribute nearly 42 million pounds. But for Goodell, that is just the tip of the iceberg. “We can do more, and we have to,” she says. Nearly 4 million households in Michigan live in risk of hunger, “and no community is immune from needing help,” Goodell says. But for Forgotten Harvest to truly be successful, Goodell says our culture has to change. “The bottom line is we have to make it easier to donate food, rather than throwing it away.” —John S. Schultz

Christine Rice

President // Vision IT, Detroit

Revenue: $245 million // Employees: 975 direct/3,000 contractors

Christine Rice, president of Vision IT in Detroit, joined the company at the outset 15 years ago. At the time, data services were about to explode, but she didn’t give it much thought. “I traded in a senior position in employee relations at EDS (since sold to HP) to help out my family, and we grew it from there,” says Rice, who started working at age 14, taking orders at a drive-in restaurant, complete with a belt money-changer. Her younger brother, David Segura, formed Vision IT in 1997, and needed help setting up employee benefit packages, employee handbooks, and myriad internal programs. “Working with family members keeps you humble, but it also takes hard work,” Rice says. She picked up both traits from her father, a hi-lo driver at Ford Motor Co.’s Woodhaven Stamping Plant. With Rice overseeing operations, her brother was free to focus on signing and servicing accounts. Rice chipped in where she could. “I went back to my colleagues at EDS and asked if we could have an opportunity to support their growth, and they kind of chuckled,” she recalls. “They wondered how our small company could support them.” Eager for the opportunity, Rice convinced EDS to take the company on as a sub-supplier for one year. Before the 12 months was up, Vision IT became a prime supplier, and today HP remains one of the company’s largest vendors. Vision IT services multiple Fortune 1000 companies, operates 20 offices in the United States and two in Mexico, and has staff in India and Puerto Rico. The company has grown by double digits since its inception. “When you have the right people with the right relationships, you can focus on working with your clients to grow their businesses,” she says. “You can’t grow globally without a global team.” —R.J. King

Tammy Carnrike

COO // Detroit Regional Chamber, Detroit

Budget: $16 million // Members/Affiliates: 20,000+

Talk about dedication. Before Tammy Carnrike joined the Detroit Regional Chamber as COO, she took a week of vacation from her previous employer to attend the 2005 Mackinac Policy Conference. The annual event, held over three days in late May, draws some 1,500 leaders in business, government, and education to Mackinac Island. “I worked behind the scenes and really observed how the conference operated and how the programming was received,” Carnrike says. Going to work for one of the largest chambers of its kind in the country, Carnrike knew her networking skills, borne from leadership positions at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, would be put to the test. Another challenge was making program adjustments during the global financial meltdown. “In 2009, we made changes on the expense side because our automotive members were struggling,” Carnrike says. “We had more creative programming, we became more interactive, and we raised the bar on quality. Our attendance dipped to 1,200 people, but we’ve since turned that around. This year we had 1,500 people, more sponsorships, and more national speakers.” Sandy Baruah, who joined the Chamber two years ago as president and CEO, says Carnrike has been instrumental to the organization’s success. “She is our chief conduit to business leaders and our nonprofit community,” he says. “We’d be lost without her.” Carnrike has also overseen several new initiatives. In April, the Chamber offered a Detroit-centric conference that focused on urban issues, job creation, and business development. Last year, Carnrike helped launched MICHAuto, which works to promote, retain, and draw new jobs and investment to the automotive industry. — R.J. King

Sandra Pierce

Member // Financial Advisory Board, Detroit

Budget: $1.2 billion (FY 2012) // Employees: 11,024

Sandra Pierce is invested in Detroit. As the city steers its way through tough times, Pierce is on the front lines using her experience in finance and leadership to move the city she grew up in forward. “I get it,” she says. “The city needs help and whatever I can do, I will make it happen.” Pierce, who stepped down as president and CEO of Charter One as of June 30, is one of nine leaders recently appointed to the state Financial Advisory Board that is tasked with overseeing the city’s financial restructuring. “It took over 50 years to get to the place where we find ourselves now in the city of Detroit,” Pierce says. “A return to prosperity will take time and require tough choices. I would ask every stakeholder to come to the table with that understanding, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.” Being involved is important for Pierce. “I believe that it is the responsibility of all of us who are able to give back to the communities where we live and work,” Pierce says. “The path to survival is a commitment to get involved and be part of the solution, rather than sitting on the sidelines.” The Northville resident grew up on the east side of Detroit, where her parents ran a popular bar and tavern. She was the youngest of 10 children and was the first in her family to graduate from college (Wayne State University). “I was poor, but smart,” she says. To pay for college, she worked two part-time jobs — one at the college bookstore, and one as a teller at National Bank of Detroit. After graduation, she took on several roles at the bank and hasn’t looked back. Pierce says good leadership is putting the right people in the right place. “People have a certain skill set and a passion for what they want to do. A good leader will match those qualities up. If they don’t, the employee will fail and so will the company.” — John S. Schultz

Lou Anna K. Simon

President // Michigan State University, East Lansing

Budget: $1.1 billion // Students: 47,954

As the 20th president of Michigan State University, Lou Anna K. Simon is up to the challenge of reaching new heights. In the area of cultural achievements, the futuristic-looking, $45 million Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum for International Contemporary Art, designed by Zaha Hadid, a world-renowned architect from London, opens on campus in the fall. On the academic side, MSU’s $100 million National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, the nation’s largest campus-based nuclear science facility, managed to survive threatened federal budget-slashing while acing a Department of Energy review to continue its work. Recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked Michigan State as the best program in the nation for nuclear physics graduate studies. Simon, who earned three advanced degrees at MSU, says the school’s achievements are a reaffirmation of the global role she and her predecessors defined for the school. “We are very proud of our heritage in food, food safety, and food security, which is going to be one of the world’s biggest problems for the 21st century,” she says. “The work we are doing on water and water quality … is also symbolic of moving high-tech jobs to the state.” Her role at MSU, she says, is “all about heritage and the great work of the people at Michigan State. I just have the privilege of being around them and trying to find ways to enhance their success.” What’s her philosophy for steering the university during particularly difficult economic times? “You have to be values-based in terms of the decision-making,” she says. “You have to enormously value people, because universities are consummate ‘people’ organizations — not only people on campus, but our stakeholders and our partners around the state. We really believe that partnerships are the key to our success.”  —Norm Sinclair