One of the first women recognized by Automotive News Europe for her achievements in the male-dominated industry is blazing forward again in the car industry.
Former Ford Motor, BP and Boeing executive Rose Mary Farenden, who is now Rose Mary Stalker, runs a UK-based company called Catagen that builds an innovative piece of lab-based emissions equipment.
But more on that in a minute. The 52-year-old Northern Ireland native has had an amazing career. She joined Ford in 1985 after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineer. Following a stint with oil giant BP, she returned to Ford in the UK. She was the honored as ANE’s Woman of the Year in 1998 for her work as program manager for the original Ford Focus.
Then came a big shift. She enrolled in a fast-track program within Ford designed to groom future leaders. As part of a small team she was tasked with figuring out how to make Ford a global employer of choice at a time when dot-com startups were hiring the best and brightest from U.S. campuses.
Stalker vividly remembers presenting the plan to former Ford CEO Jac Nasser. "[He] said to us: 'These are good ideas but they're not quite ready yet.' I said, 'Actually Jac, I think you're wrong.' That was my big mistake," she said with a laugh.
Nasser decided to bring Stalker to the U.S. in 1999 to take charge of revving up Ford's recruitment. That led to a job as director of global staffing for Boeing in 2002. The demands of that job caused her family to complain they just weren't seeing enough of her. This convinced her to relocate herself and the family to Northern Ireland in 2003 so she could to take an engineering job with aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce, where she was responsible for quality. She commuted between Northern Ireland and Derby, England, for the Rolls-Royce job until 2008, when she left the company to help her husband overcome a cancer diagnosis.
As he recovered, it was clear Stalker needed a new outlet for her energies. "After having me home for 18 months, I think he and my father had more management help than they could cope with, so the request was: 'Could you possibly go back to work?'" she said with a smile.
That led her to Catagen, an emissions company born from research carried out by the University of Belfast. She believes the company's latest solution, an emissions testing device called Ultra, which is short for universal lab test recirculating apparatus, is arriving at just the right time. Ultra mimics engine emissions by injecting a cocktail of gases down a static exhaust pipe to allow automakers to measure the effectiveness of after-treatment devices in a lab situation. Manufacturers will be attracted to its ability to be "repeatable, but relevant to the real-world" Stalker said, especially now that the industry is under pressure to align its emissions figures with what motorists actually get when driving.
Stalker is executive chairperson of Catagen, but with just six full-time employees it is very different from Ford, where she once oversaw hundreds of engineers. She sees the change as liberating. At September's Low Carbon Vehicle show in the UK, where she was showing off Ultra for the first time, one of her team members was given the title of "bad-ass problem solver."
"We don't have to be big corporate, we are small, it needs to be fun as well," she told me at the show.
As she expands Catagen, Stalker is showing the same tenacity and ability to shine as she did when ANE named her as one of Europe's top-ranking female automotive executives.