Sheryl Connelly is the manager of Ford Global Trends and Futuring, she tracks consumer trends and collaborates with people throughout the Ford system to see how that information may impact future products.
In addition to her job at Ford, Connelly is a licensed attorney and a gifted artist
Imagine being able to look into a crystal ball and predict the future. Metaphorically speaking, that’s what Sheryl Connelly does on a daily basis in her role as manager of Global Trends and Futuring for Ford Motor Company. But instead of a soothsayer’s ball, she relies on an ever-expanding repertoire of knowledge, a keen ability to research and analyze information, and a natural gift for communicating with others.
HerHighway’s Editor in Chief Christina Selter sat down with Sheryl at the NAIAS in Detroit Michigan for a one on one interview regarding how the automotive industry has opportunities for women and why it is so important for women to seek a career in automotive.
Who have you mentored? did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
I have been really lucky when it comes to mentors – there have been many family members, friends, colleagues that have helped me over the years in terms of providing me guidance and advice. I count many Ford dealers among my first and most influential mentors. They are the ones who taught me about cars and the industry when I first joined Ford Motor Company. But, there is one mentor who I met later in my career that stands apart from all the others. She saw something in me that I didn’t; and I am better for it – personally and professionally.
Gratitude to my mentors is what makes me want to be a good mentor to others; to share the things I have learned and the mistakes I have made along the way. This most frequently takes the form of informal relationships; individuals that are just starting out their careers, or trying to understand how to use trends and futuring in marketing, strategy and product development. I also mentor in a formal setting by teaching graduate students at a design school.
As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
I am drawn to any feature that simplifies or makes my life easier. Ford’s SYNC system is a good example. It seamlessly integrates my Bluetooth enabled devices like my phone, mp3 play and ipad into the vehicle making them hand-free voice activated devices. Once you get used to the system; it is hard to imagine living without it.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
Historically, the automotive industry has been dominated by men. But this is changing. Perhaps it is because women currently account for up to $85B in automotive and related business.
More and more women are can be seen in all aspects of the business including the supply chain. In fact, Ford Motor Company has more female dealer operators than any other manufacturer.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I grew up in Michigan and Ford Motor Company has always been a big presence throughout metro Detroit. It wasn’t cars that made me want to work for Ford. It was its reputation for innovation.
First automotive job?
One of my first jobs in the auto industry was working in the field as a Zone Manager for Ford Division. My primary role was wholesaling cars and trucks to Ford dealers. Having little knowledge of cars or trucks, I worried I wouldn’t be successful in this business. To my surprise and delight, that job and almost all jobs that followed have focused more on understanding people, what motivates them and building relationship.
Proudest professional achievement?
Receiving the honor of delivering the opening presentation at Grand Rapid’s first TEDX conference in 2011 is among my proudest moments.
Current challenge at work?
Learning to be patient. Most times the impact of my work isn’t immediately visible. Product development for automotive has such a long lead time, it can take months or years to see an impact.
The one I have.
What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
In college, I majored in finance, but I took as many art classes as I could fit into my schedule. I still love to draw.
What you do to relax?
I am most relaxed when I am with my family. It doesn’t matter what we are doing, when I am with my husband and our two girls, I am at my happiest.