Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



August/September 2011

Diversity/Careers August/September 2011 Issue

Native Americans
ChEs & EnvEs
Medical devices
Business intelligence
Defense contractors
Great Minds in STEM
Grace Hopper
PhD Project

WBEs in technology
News & Views
WBENC connections
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

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Telephonics AOptix Technologies
Office of Naval Research ITT


Alicia Boler-Davis manages two GM plants

"We're all excited about this opportunity to do something we've never done before. It's a second chance at life and we're making history here," she says

I like to win!" declares Alicia Boler-Davis, plant manager for General Motors' Orion Assembly (Lake Orion, MI) and Pontiac Stamping (Pontiac, MI) plants. The Orion plant was built almost thirty years ago; it's now retooled to build the new Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano, both to be available for the 2012 model year. The Pontiac plant makes sheet metal for both vehicles.

"We are all very excited about having this opportunity to do something we've never done before. It's a second chance at life and we're making history here at the plant."

The Sonic, she explains, is a sporty car geared toward a youthful audience, while the Verano is an entry luxury vehicle "aimed at young professionals who are successful early in their careers and want cars with a lot of refinement."

Leadership makes it happen
As plant manager, Boler-Davis provides leadership to make sure business objectives are "met or exceeded in all areas," including safety, quality, response, cost and environmental initiatives. "I also have to make sure we have the right resources here in the plant and, if not, decide if I should go to manufacturing or engineering to make requests on the outside."

Boler-Davis sees that the plants are leveraging best practices as well as team members' experience and expertise. She spends time on the floor and in the shop talking with workers about the kinds of people who will be buying the cars. "Since these are new products for Chevrolet and Buick, I want to share information about the culture of the market to make sure our team members are focused on the customer. It's important for them to know what customers' expectations are and to generate enthusiasm for that.

"We make sure employees have time to experience the vehicles and to actually drive them," she adds.

"In some ways," Boler-Davis says, "being a plant manager is like running your own business. You have a high level of responsibility and you have to really understand how what you do impacts the customer."

Growing up around autos
Boler-Davis was born in nearby Romulus, MI and grew up with the automobile industry all around her. "Math and science concepts came easily to me," she remembers. "In my junior year of high school I went to the General Motors Institute in Flint, MI, which became Kettering University. I spent six weeks taking college engineering courses.

"It was interesting to learn what engineers do in the automotive field. It's challenging and I like that. The more challenging something is, the harder I work!"

Boler-Davis went on to Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) where she completed a BSChE in 1991. In 1998 she received an MS in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY).

"At Northwestern about thirty percent of my base engineering class was women but in the ChE courses it was only about half that," she says.

"Great opportunity to build cars"
While she was at Northwestern Boler-Davis interned at Ford Motor Co (Detroit, MI). After graduation she took her ChE background to the Upjohn Co (Kalamazoo, MI) where she worked in chemical production for two years, "making medicine."

She went on to a year at Frito Lay's Plymouth, MI manufacturing facility. But in 1994, "I had a great opportunity to join General Motors and build cars," Boler-Davis says, and she went for it.

She joined General Motors as a manufacturing engineer at the midsize/luxury car division in Warren, MI. Several promotions followed rapidly, and by 1997 she was senior manufacturing engineer in the division.

A year later she transferred to GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant and in 2002 she became general assembly area manager at the facility. In 2004 she moved on to area manager of the paint shop at the Fort Wayne assembly plant, then area manager of the plant's body shop. She rose to assistant plant manager in 2006.

The next jump was to plant manager at General Motors' Arlington, TX assembly plant. She was the first African American woman to be plant manager at a GM vehicle manufacturing plant.

"I returned from Arlington in 2009 to lead the two assembly plants in Lansing, MI, where I was plant manager through January 2010. Then I was given the opportunity to lead the Sonic small car project and Orion Assembly, which is why I'm here now," she says.

A career of accomplishment
At Orion Boler-Davis has seven people reporting to her directly: department heads of QA, supply chain ops, finance, manufacturing and other engineering and product management. "My team knows I'm passionate about building quality vehicles," Boler-Davis says. "I'm very hands-on but I also let people make their own decisions."

Boler-Davis does not think that being an African American woman has been a hindrance to her career. "I have not encountered animosity," she says, "and I am surprised not to see more African American women in this type of role.

"I am fortunate to work for a company that values diversity and is committed to developing people to their full potential," she says. At Orion, she notes with pride, "There are many women in the plant at all levels of responsibility.

"As a company GM is very diverse. There are more and more women in leadership roles in manufacturing. In fact, our VP of global manufacturing is a woman."

Within GM Boler-Davis belongs to Women in Engineering and the GM African Ancestry Network. Outside of work she belongs to the Detroit chapter of Links, Inc (www.linksinc.org, Washington, DC), a national volunteer service organization. "Links does a lot for the underprivileged in the community," she explains.

Boler-Davis has come very far and hopes to go on in a leadership capacity at GM with increasing responsibility and scope. "I see my role as one of challenging others," she says. "I tell them that we can win even when the odds are against us!"


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