Savvy transportation companies are deep into diversity
From cars and motorcycles to DOTs and railroads, diverse techies are building outstanding careers in transportation
“We believe diversity is a source of our competitive advantage.”
– Lisa J. Wicker, Chrysler Group
By Angela M. Hutchinson
The recent stimulus legislation provides $64.1 billion for transportation infrastructure: bridges, highways, airports, railroads and more. The stimulus will create more job opportunities for techies, as well as increasing safety and supporting long-term economic growth.
Transportation companies are wise to consider diversity as they build or restore their workforces, notes Lisa J. Wicker, director of talent management, leadership development and global diversity at Chrysler Group LLC (Auburn Hills, MI). “We believe diversity is a source of our competitive advantage,” Wicker declares. “Diversity drives our innovation, helps us win customers and makes us strong and resilient in challenging times. It fuels us, stimulates our creativity and gives us confidence.”
Charles Allen, SVP of Honda R&D Americas (Raymond, OH), says that Honda “is committed to bringing together a diverse group of associates, to foster the kind of innovation and vitality that helps us create products and technologies to make people’s lives better.”
From design to manufacturing, systems analysis, continuous improvement and, of course, sales, transportation-related companies rely on techies.
Frank Howse is a senior engineer at Honda
Senior engineer Frank Howse has worked for Honda for twenty-one years. He’s responsible for setting and implementing technical strategy for R&D of conventional brake components for automobiles developed in North America. He also oversees brake test lab ops.
His typical workday is filled with “a wide variety of activity, depending on time of year or development stage of a project,” Howse says. Sometimes he’ll spend the whole day hustling from one meeting to another, discussing the status of test results, specs, delivery of parts, vehicle test activity or special needs with suppliers or team members. “Other days could be spent entirely on the test track or inside a lab, validating the performance of new prototype parts or benchmarking competitor systems.”
Howse was born and raised in Nashville, TN. He had an interesting childhood, interacting with all types of people, he says. “Our neighborhood was mostly African American but with a significant number of Caucasian families and a small number of Asian families. As a result of the civil rights movement and enforced busing, my mostly black elementary school experience was in complete contrast with my mostly white experience in junior and senior high school.”
Howse’s grandfather had his own lawn-care business, and “He put me to work helping out at an early age,” Howse recalls. “This type of business requires a lot of equipment maintenance and repair, and I learned how to repair things and developed an interest in mechanical systems.”
Howse went on to Tennessee State University, where he did three engineering co-op terms at Murray-Ohio (Brentwood, TN), working in test and design of riding lawnmowers. “I also had various other jobs throughout high school and college that gave me a wealth of experience in a number of fields,” he says.
In 1988 he completed his BSME and carried his strong work ethic and wide perspective on life into a career at Honda.
His first nine years were at the Anna, OH engine plant of Honda of America Mfg. Since then
he’s been at Honda R&D Americas. “The move from manufacturing to R&D allowed me to take advantage of my experience and contribute to the steady growth of Honda R&D Americas,”
“Much of the work I do now is applied to all our vehicle projects. My group is enhancing development efficiencies and working on new technologies and test procedures to improve braking performance.”
What Howse likes most about working for Honda is the flexibility to contribute in many areas
of the company. “There are lots of opportunities to be on committees or councils. I am currently serving as the leader of our diversity council,” he says.
“I like it that engineers at Honda don’t just sit behind a desk in a suit peering into computer screens and crunching numbers. This is a real hands-on environment; learning and understanding are greatly enhanced by actually doing or witnessing a job task.”
New ideas, he says, “are generated in abundance when you have a collection of people from different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, ages, education and physical capabilities.”
Olabisi Boyle is a chief engineer at Chrysler
A valued member of Chrysler Group’s executive leadership team, Olabisi Boyle is something of a trailblazer in engineering technology and strategic program management. She joined the company in 2004 and is now chief engineer for minivans at Chrysler (Auburn Hills, MI).
She says that she’s “model responsible:” that means it’s up to her to manage, execute and launch the minivan vehicle program on time while meeting quality and cost objectives. Among a host of other tasks, she evaluates vehicle performance during scheduled ride-and-drives for the minivan, reviews quality issues and makes sure they’re resolved before vehicle release and launch, and conducts cross-functional program team meetings to provide direction and resolution on key issues and recommendations.
Before Chrysler, Boyle was manager of manufacturing strategy and business planning for
Ford Motor Co (Dearborn, MI), where she integrated strategies from manufacturing ops into a roadmap for improved quality, reduced costs and a robust product pipeline. She also spent two years at GTE Service Corp (now Verizon) in Stamford, CT and three years at IBM in Kingston, NY and Research Triangle Park, NC.
Boyle was born in New York, NY but spent part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. Her Nigerian father, an engineer for IBM, sparked her interest in math and science.
In 1987 Boyle completed a BS in physics at Fordham University (Bronx, New York) and in 1988 she got a BSIE from Columbia University (New York, NY). In 1991 she completed an MSME at Columbia.
Her heritage, she says, has helped throughout her career. “I use my references based on the African American consumer,” she says. “I can apply that background as I make decisions so our vehicles are applicable to a wider range of consumers.”
While working at Chrysler, Boyle has become co-chair of the company’s African American network.
“What I enjoy most about Chrysler is the teamwork,” she says. “Teamwork at Chrysler Group is genuine. Teams commit to solve an issue, and commit diligently until it is resolved. I have a lot of fun here!”
Jeanelle Morris: validation engineer at Navistar
For three years now Jeanelle Morris has been an engineer in the mechanical system validation department of the engine engineering organization of Navistar (Warrenville, IL), the global transportation company. She tests and validates low-pressure lubrication and fuel supply subsystems, planning and overseeing tests to make sure they are operating efficiently and meeting spec.
This is Morris’s first job out of school, but she did stints as an intern at Navistar all through college. Originally from Chicago, IL, she went to Howard University (Washington, DC) where she completed her BSChE in 2004.
Her education directly prepared her for her career, she says. “As an engineering student in school and through internships you are trained to think analytically and to be a problem solver. The theoretical knowledge I learned and the lab tests I conducted in school prepared me well.”
Right now Morris is working on interpreting oil analyses. “Oil analysis helps us monitor the engine’s internal health during durability tests. It also helps us determine the appropriate oil drain interval for best fuel economy and engine life.”
Morris likes the friendly working environment at Navistar, but as a young woman on the job she feels she sometimes has to go the extra mile. “I overcome this challenge by not letting it affect me personally and by demanding respect,” she notes.
Morris believes that people of diverse backgrounds bring extra creativity to their work. “Diversity is important in technology industries because it brings creativity and competitiveness. As the world evolves and our population changes, diversity is needed more and more.”
Janet L. Galassi directs a technology services team on the BNSF Railway
Director of technology services Janet L. Galassi has been working on the BNSF Railway (Fort Worth, TX) for twenty-four years, her entire professional career.
“I have responsibility for the core transportation system we use to track our trains and railcars throughout the U.S. and two Canadian provinces,” she explains. She supervises four managers and they each supervise from five to twenty-five employees and contract developers to define, deliver and support IT solutions for BNSF and its customers.
Galassi is currently working on the multi-million-dollar TSS Xpress transportation support system which keeps track of all BNSF railcars and trains. “This application was built some twenty years ago, so it has a text-based interface which limits the amount of data that can
be displayed,” Galassi explains.
“Our project is to put a Web interface on top of the green screen to make it easier for new people to use.” As with most IT goals, she and her team are working to “standardize, streamline and simplify” TSS as they implement the new Web interface.
“My least favorite part of this project was accepting that everything was not going to be perfect the first time,” Galassi says with a smile. “I tend to be a perfectionist and also very conservative. But I’m proud to say that TSS Xpress is now used more than 90 percent of the time!”
Born and raised in the Midwest, Galassi notes that her mother’s grandparents emigrated from Germany, while her father’s people came from the UK a long time ago. “I’m told I may qualify to be a Daughter of the American Revolution,” she reveals.
In 1983 Galassi graduated from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse with a BS that emphasized business and a number of computer courses. In 1985 she got her MBA with a concentration in MIS from the University of Minnesota and went on to BNSF.
She has always been impressed with the railroad’s stability and longevity, she says. “The people at BNSF are wonderful, the culture is open and honest and, for me personally, the railroad offers a never-ending opportunity to solve problems!”
Danny Ho is an apps developer at Kansas DOT
Applications developer III Danny Ho joined the Kansas Department of Transportation (KSDOT, Topeka, KS) just this year. He is probably one of many techies who will be joining KSDOT soon: according to Federal Highway Admin estimates, the state may gain 10,000 jobs or more from transportation projects funded by the new stimulus package.
Ho is currently working on KSDOT’s part of the Statewide Management, Accounting and Reporting Tool (SMART) project. “I like it because I can use my existing technical skills and also learn new skills for this project. I meet a lot of people and learn from them,” says Ho.
Also known as the “Sunflower” project, named for the Kansas state flower, SMART is a financial management system intended to integrate the state’s workforce, business processes and technology investment.
Ho was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He received his BSCIS from the University of Central Missouri in 1991. Before joining KSDOT he worked at Sprint as a software engineer, programmer/analyst and tester for several of the company’s app projects. He has also worked as an IT consultant and computer programmer.
Melanie J. Fortune manages shared tech services at Harley-Davidson
For the past dozen years Melanie Fortune has worked for Harley-Davidson Motor Company (Milwaukee, WI) in the company’s global IS business office. It’s her job to leverage control objectives for information and related technology (COBIT) and information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) frameworks to protect the Harley-Davidson brand, she explains.
She contributes to process development, and provides root-cause resolution support for Harley-Davidson’s business-aligned technologies and systems. Right now she’s working on a process to make sure the hours budgeted for Harley’s IT contingent workers stay within budget.
“I appreciate the importance of this project to help keep costs in line and establish processes
to save the company time and money,” she says. Interesting work, too: “The logistics of managing multiple calendars to coordinate discussions on this topic can be challenging,” she confides.
Fortune believes that a strong work ethic, sense of family, teamwork and Christian faith are key cornerstones of her career. She got a BS in business IS from San Francisco State University in 1989, and in 1996 she completed an MS in management from Baker University (Overland Park, KS).
Fortune is pleased to work for Harley; she considers the company “an American icon and a fabulous globally recognized brand.” She started at the Harley-Davidson plant in Kansas City when it first opened in 1997, and transferred to Milwaukee HQ in 2001.
“Relocating from the KC plant was definitely impactful to my career,” she says. “I believe I made progress as a result of my decision.”
Before joining Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Fortune worked in the energy industry as
a network engineer and in IS. She’s a strong believer in diversity because “It takes an assortment of experiences and backgrounds to create and fulfill dreams around the world.” Harley-Davidson targets a diverse customer base, so a diverse workforce is needed to relate to customer needs, Fortune believes.
She lives in Hartland, WI with her husband and two daughters.
Diversity brings value
Most transportation-involved companies and agencies affirm that a diverse workforce makes a strong contribution to their long-term success.
At KSDOT, Dwight Garman, diversity recruiter, says, “We believe that diverse employees provide a beneficial dimension in our work environment, including opportunities to learn from others’ experiences and backgrounds. Diverse employees give a broader representation of citizens in our communities and a fuller spectrum of consumer views.”
Navistar’s Karl J. Knecht, director of diversity, inclusion and community affairs, says, “By cultivating an inclusive environment where every employee is heard, respected and can grow, we break down barriers to workplace performance, become an employer of choice and attract the most talented people to the business.”
Donna Martin, SVP and chief HR officer at Harley-Davidson Inc, says, “Diversity is a major element of our leadership and growth strategies. In order to grow our business, serve our customers and support the vision of fulfilling dreams through motorcycling, we must build competencies, groom leaders and develop a workforce that has a global diversity perspective.”
TRANSPORTATION-RELATED COMPANIES & ORGANIZATIONS
SEEKING DIVERSE TECHIES
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|American Airlines (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX)
|Air transportation and other services
|BNSF Railway (Fort Worth, TX)
|Chrysler Group LLC (Auburn Hills, MI)
|Harley-Davidson (Milwaukee, WI)
|Honda R&D Americas (Raymond, OH)
|Vehicle research and development
|KSDOT (Topeka, KS)
|Transportation agency for state of Kansas
|Navistar International Corp
|Commercial trucks, diesel engines and buses
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