Brenna C. Kaufman is a Product Development Executive she has 18 years of engineering and project management experience. Managed complex projects for major vehicle programs. Strong strategic thinker and team builder with an MBA from Wayne State University.
HerHighway’s Editor-in-Chief Christina Selter interviewed Brenna regarding how the automotive industry has opportunities for women and why it is so important for all women to mentor plus how to balance your home and work life.
Did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started? Who have you mentored?
Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have several mentors (or management team members) that I could consult with on my career aspirations, next steps, etc. However, you have to take the initiative to find the right people to talk to and that are willing to give you frank advice. As I have progressed through my career, I have had the opportunity to mentor both formally and informally other men and women. In particular I get a lot of questions and request for advice on how to handle a family with a career. I often get questions regarding daycare, how to juggle calendars, and how was it going from just one child to two? I don’t sugar coat my experiences or my advice and I think they appreciate it.
As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
This is a tough one as it really depends on the type of car and how you use it. For me, I like convenience. As the Dodge Challenger Chief Engineer, I would have to say I really love the ease that our keyless enter and go and hands-free UCConnect phone provide. There many other features we offer in Challenger and my former responsibilities on the Charger that I love as well.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
I have never thought about it as difficult, mainly because I have never thought of myself as a woman engineer. I continue think of myself as a good engineer who just happens to be a woman. This is how I have always approached things. Perhaps a different way of looking at this questions is … “Why do females perceive it as difficult?” … Stereotypically it is the “guys” that are out working on the cars, “oohing” and “awing” over them. But the bottom-line is that you don’t have to be a “car guy” or some gear head who tears apart cars and rebuilds them on the weekends to work in the industry. Women play a significant role in the purchase and/or purchase decision of cars – and they drive them. That in and of itself provides the opportunity for women to have input on the design and development of a car.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I never really said to myself growing up or in college “Hey I want to work in the automotive industry,” it just turned out this way. I actually wanted to be a doctor! During college I had friends that were studying engineering and it looked cool. So I switched over and loved it. I then proceeded to get a COOP position with General Motors for my last 2 year of college.
First automotive job?
My first full time engineering position was as a Seat Project Engineer for Johnson Controls. I was quite fortunate to have the luxury of choosing my first job since I had good grades and I had COOP experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my first job as it really allowed me to do engineering and get a gauge of all the different career opportunities available.
Proudest professional achievement?
Successfully launching the all-new 2011 Dodge Charger. What makes me even more proud is to know that all the hard work, and the things we pushed and fought for on Dodge brand’s flagship sedan really did make a difference – earning the company multiple awards and resonating with new customers and our ever growing Charger enthusiast crowd. I also just felt so proud of my team when I saw them amazed at what they had achieved as well.
Current challenge at work?
My current challenge at work has been the same challenge since December 2000 – balancing work with my family! I am the type of person that likes to do my best at whatever I do. Unfortunately, my drive often means I am working from home after I get the kids to bed at night. I do however try to have a day or two during the week and sometimes (when possible) weekends where I leave my laptop in my briefcase!
I want to be a Vehicle Line Executive – yes I want my boss’ job. I would not necessarily call it “my dream job,” since it each time I make progress in my career I pick a new aspiration.
What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
Back in school I played around in several things: softball, volleyball, skiing and even cheerleading. Now I am into training in the martial arts. It is great exercise, I only wish I had been turned onto it when I was younger! When I can get away to warmer climates (or at least warmer bodies of water,) my husband and I are avid scuba divers – our oldest son (Age 11) just got his certification as well. In 3 more years our younger son will be able to get certified, so we are hopeful to do more diving!
What you do to relax?
Yard work and gardening are actually relaxing to me. In Spring, Summer and Fall I really enjoy messing around in my gardens – adding plants, weeding, and buying new plants! During the Michigan winters, there isn’t as much to do around the yard, but I do actually like to go outside and shovel snow. We don’t have a snow blower (by choice), so sometimes it’s more like hard labor than I would prefer, but for the most part it is somewhat therapeutic — similar to gardening.