European Leading Women
Name: Barb Samardzich
Title: Vice president and chief operating officer
Company: Ford of Europe
Location: Cologne, Germany
Age: 57
Family: Husband, Raul; daughter, Elyse; son, Alex
Born: Long Beach, New York, USA
Nationality: USA
Languages: English, Spanish
Education: Master's degree in mechanical engineering, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; master's degree in engineering management, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA; bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA

Barb Samardzich

What attracted you to the auto industry?

I was actually the trailing spouse as my husband got a job at Ford first and I followed him. Having said that, I had solid engineering skills, which certainly could be put to good use in the automotive industry. 

First automotive job:

Design engineer for front end accessory drive components on various engine families. I started in September 1990.

What was your big break?

I was made chief engineer of automatic transmissions. I was given the opportunity to turn around an organization that many in the company had wanted to divest.

What is the major challenge you have faced in your career?

Perhaps it is self-imposed, but as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, I always felt the need to be perfect. I have strived to not make mistakes, be on top of my game at all times and deliver beyond expectations.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I was fortunate to have had several mentors throughout my career. As the dilemmas I faced in my career changed over time, so did the people I looked to for council and guidance. 

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

Be visible as a role model to young women to help them cultivate an interest in a career in automotive. Also, engage in the dialogue around our industry early in their educational careers. You have to make that contact before young women decide on what subjects to focus on once they get to university.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

I love riding my bicycle, going on power walks and reading.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing - with the exception of when my kids were teenagers! I think sleep is incredibly important for you to be at your best during the day. Whatever issues or problems are on your plate when you go to bed, they will absolutely still be there in the morning and losing sleep won’t change a single thing. In fact, it will make you less capable to deal with those issues or come up with necessary creative solutions. 

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

I am a novice art collector. I like postwar/contemporary artists. Roy Lichtenstein is my favorite.

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

It would be really nice to have dinner once more with my mother. She passed away several years ago.

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

I wouldn’t change much. I would probably work even harder to keep the “crises” in perspective.

When and where was your last vacation?

I went to Norway and Sweden during the last week of July and first week of August. 

Name one talent you wish you had.

I would love to be more artistic. I would love to have the ability to paint and draw.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Really listen to what people are telling you. Put yourself in their place and understand their perspective. This is important advice for your career as well as in your life.

What advice would you give your child?

Same as above.

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

I would be a Mustang convertible, of course.

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