“Challenges get my adrenaline pumping…”

So says Barb Samardzich who, as vice president and chief operating officer at Ford of Europe, has driven straight through the glass ceiling

Forget the jokes about women drivers – as a senior exec at Ford, Barb Samardzich has heard them all – and, anyway, we’re all tired of them. However, while she is just one of a handful of high ranking women in the motor industry, she’s working hard to remedy that situation. Rising to the top in such a traditionally male-oriented business does have its challenges, but it’s something she’s handled with aplomb. Her main tip, whoever you are, is: love what you do.

There is always a solution “I’m an engineer by trade and I know that whatever challenge I’m presented with, there’s always a way around it – assuming you’re not trying to violate the laws of physics, of course. I find this a comfort. However, there are two variables that you cannot change: time and money.”

Listen to your customers “I’m an American, and when I came to Europe over three and a half years ago, the first auto show I went to was Geneva’s International Motor Show. When I met the press there, many of the journalists asked me: ‘When are you bringing the Mustang over to Europe?’ I didn’t quite understand where they were coming from at first, but it became apparent that there was clearly a real need and desire for this car over here. So, we’re launching a right-hand drive version in 2015.”

Take care of yourself “You have to. In my job prior to this, I had a global position and went all over the world, all the time. If you didn’t pace yourself, it was exhausting. Once, I went to Frankfurt, checked into a hotel and went downstairs to meet a colleague for dinner. As I was eating, I suddenly realised that I had absolutely no idea which room I was in or even what floor I was staying on. Nothing – not a clue. I had to go back to the front desk and find out all over again.”

Ask for help and support “I find it incredibly helpful to use mentors who have ‘been there and done that’. This is my second tour of duty in Europe. My first was when my children were young. That particular opportunity arose simultaneously with a promotion in the States and the people I was working for at the time obviously weren’t keen on my leaving. It was an agonising decision, but I turned to a mentor of mine. He said, ‘An international assignment can be a wonderful experience, both for you and your family. The work stuff will sort itself out.’ I took his advice and he was right: it was a wonderful experience.”

Be aware of your responsibilities “I used to think, ‘Who would ever notice me?’, but I have a lot of young women coming up and saying that I inspired them to succeed in a male-dominated environment. As a woman in my position, I am a role model to many and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. A lot of girls, when they’re 14 or so, steer away from science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but if they don’t continue down that path, they aren’t going to be engineers. I spend a lot of time campaigning to get young girls to continue with those particular subjects.”

Be extra diligent “Following on from my last point, there is a little extra pressure on me in my role. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great, welcoming environment and I’m pleased to be here. However, if I say something stupid in a room with 10 guys, they’ll remember who said it. If one of the 10 guys says something stupid, chances are the rest of them won’t remember who it was.”

Love what you do “If you spend 40 hours a week doing a job you don’t like, you’re going to spend a lot of your life doing something you don’t have a passion for. I have no idea what else I could do [for a living] and, yes, there are challenges along the way, but it’s how you perceive them. I haven’t had a day where I’ve had nothing to do or no challenges to deal with – and that’s what gets my adrenaline pumping.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight