Meet the Women on the Leading Edge of Mobility at WCX™ 2019

As the automotive industry’s global landscape rapidly transforms, so does the face of leadership. At WCX 2019, thought leaders from a range of forward-focused organizations and startups share how they are changing the future—and the culture—of automotive mobility at the Women’s Panel and Networking Breakfast.

LG Chem Michigan Inc. CEO and President Denise Gray moderates the panel, “New Mobility: Women Leading Disruptive Innovation.” Known as the battery czar, Gray has a long history of both shattering glass ceilings and mentoring young men and women. Among many other innovations, she oversaw the development and launch of the lithium-ion battery system for the original Chevrolet Volt.

Gray will be joined by women giving an edge to mobility: Greta Cutulenco, CEO and cofounder of Acerta Analytics Solutions; Stacey Miller, Senior Manager at Toyota Motor North America, Digital Transformation and Mobility; Minyang Jiang, CEO, President and Board Member of Ford GoRide LLC; and Alisyn Malek, COO and cofounder of May Mobility.

Ahead of WCX 2019, Cutulenco, Miller, and Jiang spoke with us about their careers, sponsorship, pitching groundbreaking ideas, grit and perserverance, and the major transformations happening in mobility. Here are some of their thoughts:

Their approach to disrupting an established industry

“Bringing new and disruptive technology to this area has been a very challenging task, especially when you are dealing with many status-quo solutions. One strategy we have used was to leverage the newest software and AI technology as a push for innovation in the quality domain. Applying AI to ensure safety, reliability, and quality of the newest vehicles facilitates the future of mobility we are all striving for.”
– Greta Cutulenco

“Well-established relationships are assets in influencing change. An executive sponsor/owner who reports directly to the highest decision maker is essential.”
– Stacey Miller

“To ‘disrupt’ a mature or established industry successfully, you have to have a really honest conversation about what the industry is good at, and leverage those strengths to your advantage. Disruption for disruption’s sake is not good. ... But if you can understand the strengths, then you can figure out what capabilities are required to pivot those strengths into new business models that are then transformative.”
– Minyang Jiang

How they achieve success in a traditionally male-dominated industry

“It has presented a challenge during the initial stages of the company, especially while Acerta still had very few real proof-points in the industry. Over time, however, as we became more established as a company, the focus has shifted more toward our technology and capabilities. Now, even though barriers continue to exist that may slow our progress, the growing experience and support from well-known organizations help me continue to achieve success.”
– Cutulenco

“One important factor in getting me through the hurdles of career advancement in this industry has been sponsorship. Sponsors expand your network and open doors. But one needs to work to gain the trust and confidence of sponsors. Performance, image, and exposure are factors in gaining the trust and confidence of sponsors.”
– Miller

“It takes a lot of working on yourself, and you cannot do it alone. You need a support network and managers who are willing to go to bat for you, and mentors who will give you candid feedback and who will work on your insecurities and your flaws WITH you. I have had meetings where I’ve felt invisible or completely ignored. I’ve had social interactions in good-ol’-boys-type situations where I felt awkwardly out of place. But one thing I think is really important is that when women work through that self-doubt and build their confidence brick by brick, it is very real and no one can take it away from them.”
– Jiang

Their biggest career challenges

“The biggest challenge in my career has been learning at a very high pace how to grow and scale the product and the team at Acerta. My background was very technical, so I have had to go through a steep learning curve in multitude of unrelated areas, like hiring for positions that I have never done myself, learning of organization structures, designing roadmaps, assessing financials, etc. Learning at a fast pace to be able to solve issues and fill gaps in the company has been a continuous challenge.” 
– Cutulenco

“Pitching to start a new mobility business in front of the entire Ford senior leadership. I had to put my personal reputation on the line. There were a couple of really supportive senior leaders who helped me get started, but there was also a lot of skepticism and at times personal judgment. The narrative of what I was trying to do quickly got taken away from me as people fought to support me and to say ‘no.’ That was pretty hard, to be so visible and know that top leaders at the company were forming an opinion of me (and some were negative at the time) without really knowing me as a person, my values or capabilities.”
– Jiang

What motivated them to get into the automotive mobility industry

“I was really fascinated by robotics and automation for a while but never specifically within this industry. What really led me to be fascinated by automotive was the prospect of autonomous vehicles. The impact that self-driving cars could have on our everyday lives and on the world got me extremely excited, and I wanted to be part of making this change a reality.” 
– Cutulenco

“I fell into it. In college, I had a summer internship with a Ford affiliate. That led to my career in this industry. Fortunately, I picked a great company in Toyota. I’ve had the opportunity to take on a variety of roles in unchartered territory that has led me to the mobility space.”
– Miller

“I love the intellectual challenge of reinventing the way we do business as mobility becomes more than just the car, and more than just going from point A to point B. To thrive, we have to compete in ways we’ve never thought of before.”
– Jiang

Their advice for today’s young women professionals

“There are a lot of challenges that young professional women have to face, and the most important thing is to have the grit and perseverance to follow your passions and ambitions in face of these challenges. Think about what you want for yourself to achieve and find creative ways to make it happen.”
– Cutulenco

“Know your value, and do not be afraid to ask for what you want.”
– Miller

“One: it’s never too early to practice being the kind of leader you want to be. As you go through your career, observe what frustrates you and those around you; note who you respect and why. Write down the leadership behaviors you want to embody and what you would do differently. And use them to develop a set of core principles of how you want to lead and practice them and tweak them in low-risk scenarios. Two: really understand on what and on whom you want to spend your time. What criteria are you using to help you prioritize? To what extent are your priorities externally driven (deadlines, urgency) or internally driven (values, team development). Once you are aware, align your tasks and how you approach them with the kind of person you want to be.”
– Jiang

How women can keep a competitive edge in today’s workforce

“I think that women should use the unique perspectives they have on products, businesses, leadership, etc., to influence the decisions organizations are making. I think in today’s workforce, where a big emphasis is placed on diverse teams, women bring an edge to the companies they choose to work with. Women should leverage that to differentiate.”
– Cutulenco

“Take on the challenging assignments and leadership roles. Differentiate yourself as entrepreneurial, but with an eye on the big picture. Look for the opportunities where you have a seat at the table. Manage upward and knowledge, experience and opportunities will be passed down.”
– Miller

“To remain competitive, you need to develop skills that are future-oriented, rather than jump into what's ‘hot’ right now. When you are not looking for a job, be open to talking to recruiters just to understand what the market is looking for. Be aware of external forces that are shifting your industry, and see if you can develop a hypothesis around how key trends are converging in your industry and what skill sets might be needed. Once you can determine where the industry is going, then go after the competencies (not necessarily the jobs) that position you for the future, not what's the trendiest thing currently.”
– Jiang