Women To Watch In Manufacturing

From the plant floor to the executive office, these women are making a difference.

When women executives in manufacturing do receive public attention, it tends to be the rare CEO: Carleton Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard Co.; Andrea Jung at Avon Products; Patricia Russo at Lucent Technologies Inc. Women leaders, however, populate every level of manufacturing at large and midsize manufacturing companies. Here are eight such women who are making a difference at their companies.


Martha Finn Brooks President, Alcan Aluminum Corp., Cleveland; President of Alcan Rolled Products Americas and Asia, Alcan Inc., Montreal Taking On The Change Challenge As if being head of one of Montreal-based Alcan's six global business groups with revenues of approximately $4 billion weren't enough, Brooks recently took on the role of heading up change management for the company. Change is crucial to a company-wide goal of doubling share price every five years by achieving 16% return on capital annually. Brooks will oversee the use of Lean Sigma and some new product applications to achieve these goals. Brooks says communication is one of her highest priorities. "It's simply essential to leading a large group of experienced people in directions that break age-old rules of thumb and other paradigms."
Susan Kropf President, COO, Avon Products, New York Delivering On Promises While CEO Andrea Jung usually takes center stage when the spotlight shines on Avon, Kropf certainly has contributed to the company's recent track record for exceeding earning estimates. Kropf, who has been with the company for more than 30 years, is overseeing internal efficiency efforts that have cut inventory turns by 10 days, reduced product development cycles by more than 40% and should trim costs by $230 million during the next three years, according to BusinessWeek, which named Kropf and Jung to its "Best Managers" list in January. Kropf also is involved in an effort to increase the number of Avon sales representatives by at least 10% by 2005.
Maureen Kempston Darkes Group VP; President GM Latin America, Africa and Middle East General Motors Corp. (GM), Detroit Balancing On Auto Industry's Shifting Plane Darkes' success story starts at a desk in a car dealership, where she worked as a secretary in the '70s. In 1975, she took a job as a staff lawyer at GM and held progressively more responsible titles, including heading up GM of Canada from 1994 to 2001. In 2002, she was named to her current position and took on expanded influence in the executive suite as a member of the automotive strategy board. Darkes' growing influence at GM comes while the industry is in flux, which like its U.S.-based counterparts is facing shrinking U.S. market share, quality issues and burdensome legacy costs of retiree health care and pension benefits. Meanwhile, overseas markets represent a growth opportunity for the company. For the first four months of this year, GM's total vehicle sales fell 8.6% to 1.42 million vehicles from 1.55 million cars and trucks a year ago, according to The Wall Street Journal. In Darkes' division, GM cut its second-quarter production forecast to 149,000 in May, down 4,000 vehicles from April's projection of 153,000 vehicles, but up 4,000 from its estimate in March of 145,000 vehicles. GM built 141,000 units for this region in the second quarter of 2002.
Donna J. Demerling Senior VP, Supply-Chain Transformation The Timken Co., Canton, Ohio Key Player In Growth, Efficiency Demerling, who started with the global bearing manufacturer in 1972 as an engineer, is the first person at the company to carry the senior vice president/ supply-chain transformation title. The appointment comes at a crucial time for the 104-year-old company, which February completed its $840 million purchase of The Torrington Co. from Ingersoll-Rand. The buy nearly doubled the size of the company, making it the third-largest bearing maker in the world with $3.8 billion in sales. Additionally, Timken has been streamlining production assets and suppliers. Demerling will focus on savings in the global supply chain. "The efficiencies that come from a strong leader like Donna bringing product supply into one tight stream brings value not only to our customers, but also to our shareholders," says Timken President and CEO James W. Griffith. In addition to her work as a mechanical engineer, Demerling was manager-production operations at the Lincolnton Bearing Plant in North Carolina, general manager of Bucyrus Bearing Operations in Ohio, and, most recently, president of the company's aerospace and super precision business in New Hampshire.
Cindy Hultine Plant Manager, Covington, Ga., General Mills Corp., St. Paul, Minn. The Best Place To Be One must conclude independently that Hultine's extensive experience in operations is part of what drove a 46% increase in sales at General Mills in fiscal year 2002. The company won't reveal specifics about plant performance, but its third-quarter 2003 performance couldn't have been possible without highly motivated top performers such as Hultine. In that period General Mills increased sales 11% to $2.65 billion and increased profits 193% to $240 million. (This includes 13 full weeks of results from Pillsbury, which the company purchased last year) Says Hultine of her employer: "GM has high expectations, but they give you the tools, training and resources to achieve the things you need to achieve."
F. Suzanne Jenniches VP and General Manager, Government Systems Division Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Electronic Systems, Baltimore 'Intrapreneur' Brings Extensive Experience Capitalizing on shifts in market demand, Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Electronic Systems sector, a $6 billion contributor to the $25 billion defense electronics manufacturer, recently created a Government Systems Division. The new division is expected to have sales of between $400 million and $500 million this year and is comprised of products for homeland security, automation and information systems and communication systems. When Robert (Bob) Iorizzo, president of the sector, went looking for a leader for this new group, he tapped F. Suzanne Jenniches, a 30-year veteran of the company who headed programs related to such high-profile products as the B-1B Bomber's offensive radar. "The really emerging and exciting part is the homeland defense. We've done this sort of in an ad hoc fashion. Bob asked me to pull this together and coordinate . . . and then analyze the needs, the voids, the vulnerabilities within the current systems of the United States and address this initiatives with our key customers. He said, 'You have been the one within the sector that starts new things. You are the intraprenuer.' " In addition, Jenniches oversees subsidiaries and sites in Cincinnati, Gaithersburg, Md; Peterborough, England; Oslo, Norway; Gentilly, France; Bourg-les-Valence, France; Mechelen, Belgium; and Shanghai.
Dianne Kokkinos Senior VP, Global Supply Chain, Collins & Aikman, Troy, Mich. Plant Improvements Lead To Promising Promotion Dianne Kokkinos' resume reads like the nitty-gritty recipe for making stuff: She started as a production scheduler for an instrumentation company in 1973 and is now a senior vice president in charge of a $2 billion global procurement budget at a $4 billion automotive supplier. The path from there to here included repeated inventory reductions; supplier management, training and consolidation; launching logistics plans for domestic and overseas plants; strategic planning, JIT and other lean initiatives; and vice president of operations. In all, Kokkinos has more than 25 years of experience, much of it serving in a series of progressively responsible positions with C&A and companies it acquired. As vice president of operations for the company's Port Huron Operations, she led that facility in attaining an IndustryWeek's Best Plants Award and secured a multi-million dollar incentive package from state and local economic development agencies. In her current role, to which she was named in 2002, she is spreading lean to the company's purchasing group and driving aggressive cost reductions in 15 countries and 125 facilities.
Ruth Smith VP, Operations, Nordson Corp., Cleveland Bringing Lean To Midsize Manufacturing Smith, who has extensive experience in lean initiatives, was tapped by this $648 million manufacturer of adhesive and coating systems to increase efficiencies and reduce costs. She started her mission by introducing lean manufacturing to Nordson's largest business unit, which is already reporting significant improvements, such as:
  • Nordson's Pro-Blue melters are now manufactured with 80% less lead time.
  • A high-volume hose manufacturing facility has achieved an annual labor savings of more than $110,000.
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