Vicki Poponi Assistant Vice President of Product Planning at American Honda Motor Co., Inc.>

Vicki Poponi is the Assistant Vice President of Product Planning at American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (AHM). In this role, Poponi leads the Product Planning team which has the charter of driving AHM’s strategic objectives through representing the needs of the U.S. market and customer in vehicle development. Her team is responsible for Honda and Acura product planning, strategic planning, market research and quality assurance coordination for AHM.

Since joining AHM in 2005, Poponi has focused on improving the company’s product planning and launch planning processes in order to create a market-driven culture that leverages the strengths of the entire AHM organization.

Poponi joined AHM with a rich and diverse background in general management, marketing, business development, operations and engineering. Prior to joining AHM, Poponi worked for Honeywell’s Garrett Turbocharging Systems where she held the positions of Vice President, Strategic Growth and Director of Worldwide Operations. In addition, Poponi had general management responsibilities for Garrett’s Thermal Systems business. Prior to her tenure at Garrett, Poponi worked for over a decade in the paper industry as a program manager for Kimberly-Clark Corporation and as an operations manager for Scott Paper Company.

Poponi received a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Drexel University, and she holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

A resident of Palos Verdes, Calif., Poponi is married and has two children, a 19-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter.

Who have you mentored?
I like to think I mentor all my team. But I do keep a special eye out for the women on my team and try to help them work through the challenges of working in a male dominated business and with a bunch of male engineers!

Did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
I was fortunate because at Garrett I had the privilege of being mentored by the President of the company a man named Bill Amelio. He was a great mentor and a great business man. In fact, Bill went on to be the CEO of Lenova.

At Honda, I was fortunate to be mentored by John Mendel, Honda’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Takashi Sekiguchi, at the time, the Executive Vice President of Automobile Operations. Both of these gentlemen have helped me tremendously. Initially, to understand the automotive industry and secondly, maybe the most beneficial, was how a Japanese company operated. Our American business culture is very different than that of the Japanese business culture which is based on ensuring consensus before action.

As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
From a “features” view, I have to admit my favorite feature is heated seats! I’m always cold and they sure do help! My other most favorite feature, that a lot of mom’s of young children would appreciate, is the Conversation Mirror we have in our CR-V. It’s a curved mirror that’s on the outside of the sunglass holder and it allows you to keep an eye on your little one in the back seat. It’s so much more elegant than having to stick on one of those suction cup mirrors!

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
I think it’s only difficult if you think it is…..but remember, that’s coming from a female with an engineering background. I think the real issue is that there aren’t enough women with hard science or technical backgrounds.

The auto industry is really a technology driven industry. Cars are some of the most highly engineered products and in planning and developing vehicles you need strong technical skills to be able to communicate, understand and convince the engineers. On the manufacturing side of the industry, it’s similar. The quality control processes and automation in automotive manufacturing plants are huge, demanding a strong technical understanding.

Personally, I’ve never found the industry difficult and have found being a woman in a primarily male industry has been a benefit. When you’re one of the few, or only woman, in the room, you stand out in the crowd and are remembered!

Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I really never planned to work in the auto industry. I have an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering and typically, with this kind of degree you end up working in the oil refining business or some other type of chemical based manufacturing company. I ended up working in the operations areas for Scott Paper and then Kimberly Clark’s paper mills. I wanted to get out of the actual plant environment and to do so, obtained my MBA. One of my MBA classmates, thought my background would fit well with Garrett Turbo Charging and I had always liked cars, so it was a good match. Now with Honda, I know I’d be hard pressed to find another job that offers so much….the ability to leverage my technical background working with the development engineers and to leverage my business side skills, all while offering challenge, excitement, hard work, continuous opportunities to learn about customers. Not to mention the really wonderful feeling you get once a car has been launched after spending years planning it!

First automotive job?
Director, Worldwide Operations, Garrett Turbocharging a subsidiary of, at the time, AlliedSignal now a subsidiary of Honeywell. I came to the auto industry after spending 13 years in the paper industry.

Proudest professional achievement?
This one is a toss up between three professional achievements. I’ll lay them out in order of the oldest to the newest:

1. Graduating and getting my MBA from the Wharton School of Business. I’m proud of this because I accomplished it while working full time, raising my 6 year old son all while being a newlywed! Talk about a hectic and crazy time! I think I only slept about 5 hours a night for the entire 2 years!

2. While at Garrett I was tasked with a job no one knew how to do….integrate two newly acquired companies, Hayden Industries & Serck, into Honeywell and simultaneously move a manufacturing operation from California to Mexico! It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. I was successful and as a result, was promoted to a combination job of Vice President of Strategic Growth (Marketing, Business Development & Product Planning) for the turbo company and General Manager for the Thermal business which gave me $100M Profit & Loss responsibility.

3. The honor and privilege of representing Honda and introducing the all-new 2011 Odyssey at the Chicago Auto Show in the winter of 2010!

Current challenge at work?
It used to be that there was a very large gap between the quality levels of most of our competitors’ vehicles and Honda’s.. But competitors have started to close that gap. This is great for car buyers. Our current challenge is trying to understand the spoken and unspoken needs and wants of our customers better than any of our competitors to ensure Honda can deliver unique and superior products that will delight our customers…one vehicle at a time!

Dream job?
In it!

What you do to relax?
I like to hang out with my 8 year old daughter, Miya and my husband along with talking to my 21 year old son, Michael who is living on the East Coast. I also read as much as possible….my favorite type of books are fantasy books! It helps me to escape!