Ward's Auto World and McCall's are proud to announce the winners of the "Outstanding Women in the Automotive Industry" awards. The four women high-lighted here demonstrate extraordinary leadership in management, marketing, manufacturing, and design and engineering in the manufacturers category. The year we also present one woman with a Lifetime Achievement award.

In today's business world it's not managers who make the difference, it's leaders. They are skilled in bringing out the best in the individuals with whom they work while empowering them to make decisions. It means choosing the other members of the team wisely. That know-how is what sets aside this year's winners of the Outstanding Women in the Automotive Industry award.

Lifetime achievement

It's a long jump from being a spotwelder with a small partmaker to running the United Auto Workers union's Independents, Parts and Suppliers (IPS) and National Aerospace Depts. But the same decisive leadership skills that got Carolyn Forrest through when things were tough on the line prepared her to negotiate agreements with huge supplier firms.

Her ability, not only as a bargainer, but as a leader who has brought much needed change to the union/management relationship makes her the recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award. For years, and long before it was fashionable, the outspoken Ms. Forrest has pushed both sides to work together to solve problems.

"I came to recognize that you spend more time, money and effort and get less results arguing with each other or having adversarial relations than working together. That doesn't mean we always agree," she says. "It makes workers' lives more secure. Plants where management and union are at each others' throats all time are the first to close."

Ms. Forrest, who joined the UAW in 1957, is focusing the union's organizing efforts on suppliers because "that's where the growth is in the auto industry ... I am concerned that if we are not careful, everyone will have a race for the bottom wage, and our standard of living will go down the toilet - that's totally unfair to the workers and unfair to this country. We are going to wake up and find out our purchasing power is zero."

Management

Today, quality is measured by the little things. A misplaced squeak or squeal, an unusually harsh feel to the vehicle or the slightest unanticipated bump can turn off a customer. That puts a lot of pressure on those responsible for noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). At Chrysler Corp., it's Susan M. Cischke, general manager-scientific labs and proving grounds. She is the winner in the management category.

Holding a master's degree in engineering, she has been with Chrysler for 19 years and leads 1,800 other engineers, technicians and mechanics as they strive to move Chrysler's best practices throughout the platform teams.

Fastener quality was a problem, so Ms. Cischke created a Fastener Quality Task Force that changed the releasing process, started reviewing sourcing strategies and process controls, and pushed ahead a knowledge-based design system for fastener selection. Using this cross-functional team boosted quality by 90%, a supplier rationalization plan was launched and more reviews are now conducted at supplier plants.

Preparation and setup time was cut by 92% and three new development programs were brought back in-house after she worked out an agreement with UAW-represented salaried mechanics at the Proving Grounds that uses a team approach.

Still, her biggest coup is convincing upper management, such as President Robert A. Lutz, to spend $9 million on an Automated Durability Road at the Chelsea, MI, proving grounds. It can test up to 20 vehicles at one time, simulate 10 years of strenuous customer driving in about two weeks and test vehicles for the European, Asian and U.S. markets. The first vehicles tested on the road, which opens this spring, will come out in 1998-'99.

Design, Engineering

or Manufacturing

Companies that can manage downsized operations effectively are winners. That means lean manufacturing - low inventory Kent did that at Ford Motor Co.'s Wixom, MI, assembly plant and will save the automaker in the neighborhood of $6 million. She's the winner in the design, engineering and manufacturing category.

Although she spent only eight months at Wixom, as manufacturing manager she was responsible for implementing Ford's in-line vehicle sequencing system, which ensures the bodies of the Lincoln Continentals, Town Cars and Mark VIIIs built there arrive on the line at the same time as their parts.

"What had to be done was to get the manufacturing sequence in order ... if a vehicle started as job one it had to end as job one," she says.

Most of the savings came from inventory reductions, she says, giving the credit to a strong, innovative supply base. "The company has a roll-out slated from this. Wixom was a pilot; the plan will be implemented at other locations," says Ms. Kent, who joined Ford in 1987 after seven years at General Motors Corp.

She's now plant manager at the Ohio assembly plant in Avon Lake, that builds the Mercury Villager and Nissan Quest, plus bodies for the Econoline and Club Wagon. The challenge here is to make plants with two very different labor agreements work. The minivan line has a modern operating agreement (MOA) that allows work teams whose members do multiple jobs. The other has a traditional pact, with more job classifications and a stricter way of constructing teams.

"The company is an advocate of team concept, and the process that helps workers contribute to cost (reduction) and safety. But it is difficult for me to tell the difference between the two systems because we are advocating teams in both," she says.

Marketing/Automobile

Manufacturer

Today's Lincoln-Mercury Div. aims at a new audience - younger and more affluent. Its new offering, the compact Mystique sedan, replaces the Topaz, but at $14,350 is substantially more costly than its predecessor. The `95 Continental, with a pricetag of $41,375, now is the most expensive vehicle to ever roll off Ford's assembly lines. It's the job of Bobbie Koehler-Gaunt, general sales manager, to educate dealers and their sales forces to sell the new vehicles, plus find innovative ways to market the new cars. She is the winner in the "marketing, employed by an automobile manufacturer," category.

The big challenge is to reduce turnover in the sales force. During a seminar last year Ms. Koehler-Gaunt happened to hear some salespeople say they didn't feel part of the L-M sales team because they weren't involved in a meaningful way. Shortly after that L-M initated a program asking dealers and salespeople what they needed to sell the Mystique and Continental.

"Empowerment can produce wonders," she says. "I would love to take credit, but it came from the dealers."

American Marketing Concepts Inc., a product-evaluation company that does work for consumer auto buff books, was hired to go over the two cars and present their independent findings to dealers.

Early numbers showed customer satisfaction scores around 95% in the satisfied or nearly satisfied categories.

Ms. Koehler-Gaunt, who has been with Ford for 23 years, used a similar program to launch the new Continental.

Marketing/Agency

What's a Kia? That's the question Camille Johnson of Goldberg Muser O'Neill had to answer as she launched an advertising campaign for the Korean auto company. She is the winner in the "marketing, employed by an advertising agency," category.

"Kia (Motors Corp.) is a little company no one has heard of with modest spending that is entering the economy segment, which is cluttered and not sexy," she says.

Although it has been around for 50 years and sells vehicles in 80 nations, Kia had no presence in the U.S., so it started out slowly, launching first in the Western states in 1994. It's currently rolling out in Texas and the rest of the South. The Northeast is next, followed by the difficult-to-sell Midwest.

Because dollars were scarce, Ms. Johnson came up with innovative ways to get more for less. Less expensive by far than TV, radio was chosen as the major medium. "What's A Kia" contests were conducted by radio stations. Ads were placed in the classified section in other than automotive sections. An ad under home appliances might read: "Kia it's not an air conditioner, but it's cool. See it April 15."

During the first six weeks of the campaign, advertising recall was 56%.