European Leading Women
Name: Katrin Papenfuss
Title: Vice president of quality and risk management AWD/eDrive
Company: GKN Driveline
Location: Zwickau, Germany
Age: 48
Family: Husband, Jens; son, Moritz, 13
Born: Zwickau, Germany
Nationality: German
Languages: German, English, some Russian
Education: Master's degree in production measurement technology and quality assurance, Technical University Chemnitz, Chemnitz, Germany

Katrin Papenfuss

What attracted you to the auto industry?

In 1984 I did an apprenticeship as a skilled worker in the automotive industry. My parents chose this path for me, however, after more 30 years in this business, I would have to say it was the right decision. After my apprenticeship and university, I got a full-time position in the industry.

First automotive job:

I worked as deputy quality manager for an automotive supplier starting in 1997.

Initially, I had a female boss but she was dismissed six weeks after I arrived.   

What was your big break?

After my female boss was fired I was named acting quality manager. It was baptism by fire because I had to handle a number of very difficult issues with customers, but I learned how to survive. When the company hired a new quality manager he allowed me to transition back to my deputy job, but it wasn’t long before he resigned. Once again I had to deal with customer issues, which had escalated. I gathered all my courage and suggested to the company’s owner that he make me the permanent quality manager. He was surprised but decided to give me the job. It was still very difficult but at this point I was much better prepared. Nearly 20 years ago I took charge of my career, opened my mind and became self-confident.                                                                                                                

What major challenge have you faced in your career?

We always think a current issue is our biggest challenge, but somehow you survive, learn and move to the next level. I think that’s the real challenge: learning lessons, moving forward and not being afraid of the next major challenge.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?!

It is primarily my husband, who has always supported me and gives me stability. It is great to have a partner like him by my side. The male bosses who hired and promoted me through the years have also had a very positive effect, as did my father, who challenged me to be a good student.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry?

I believe doors are already open. GKN, for example, has gotten rid of roadblocks and we now have some great female role models. It’s up to the women to pass through the open doors. I realize that might sound easy, but isn’t. There are a lot of variables to consider, such as what’s best for the family and whether the woman’s partner is committed. A woman’s partner has to be supportive. If that’s not the case, equally skilled men will always be picked first. I try to lead by example and know that’s the most effective way to encourage more women to join the industry. Awards such as the Leading Women also provide a great platform to show that women are playing a greater role in the industry.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

I alternate between relaxation and exercise. I like cycling, shopping, gardening, meeting friends and resting.

What keeps you awake at night?

My husband usually gets earlier up than me so I often also get up early and start my business day.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I am a passionate chef. I love to plan meals, shop for the ingredients and prepare the dishes, especially for others. I try to learn something new from every dinner party I host.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

I would love to have dinner with my future great grandchild. I’m curious about the way they will live and what part of my DNA was successfully passed on. 

If I had it to do all over again, I would ...

Do it all the same way again. 

When and where was your last vacation?

This past winter we skied and relaxed in the south Tyrolean Alps.

Name one talent you wish you had.

Sometimes it would be nice to be able to predict the future.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Remain true to yourself and trust in your abilities. 

What advice would you give your child?

I recently told my son this quote that is often attributed to Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” He is a teenager and only listens selectively. I’m sure though he will remember this at some point.

If you were a car, what car would you be?

I would be a Volvo from the future, such as from the year 2020, which is when the company wants zero people to be killed or seriously injured in one of its cars.

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