Sarah Haslam: Improving the World through Engineering
2 June 2014
So……why did you choose Engineering?
This has been a question I have been asked frequently during my 20 years of working within automotive engineering but I am sure my male colleagues very rarely do!
I have my standard response of “well….. I loved Maths and Physics at school and was good at it too” but then I am lucky enough to be able to add to my response that I attended a WISE course during lower sixth form. I then explain that it was this opportunity to meet real female engineers, that made me realise that engineering would be right for me.
The course was at Imperial College over a weekend so the excitement of traveling from the north west to London for a weekend without my parents was enough to encourage me to attend. I was so glad that I did – not only did I meet inspirational female engineers but I also got to find out more about engineering and how I could improve a products design to meet a users requirements.
During this time I had a fantastic PE teacher who encouraged me to consider all options and even told my parents she thought I would make a great Prime Minster one day! My mother also provided me with the confidence and support to really focus on an engineering career, which is unusual I think for parents to have a full understanding of what engineering involves.
And lastly I had a belief that if the Boys can do it – so can I!!!
Snapshot of me taken a few years ago working on engine development
So ….what happened next?
After studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol I started my career working for a small engineering company based in Luton developing electrical control panels for vehicle production lines. This was a great start for my career as it let me experience the whole design process from concept through to production so that I very quickly got an understanding of product development.
After a couple of years I was interested in moving to work directly for an automotive company where wider experiences and travel would be available. I was successful in gaining a position at Ford at their Dunton Technical Centre in Essex and have spent the last 18 years having various roles and developing my career to a senior leadership level.
Some of the more memorable projects are:
- Attending customer clinics where I met with real customers and found out what they like and don’t like about the Ford vehicles – locations were Moscow, Arizona, Cologne. The challenge then was to translate their input into engineering specifications and targets
- Trained as a “Drive Team” member to evaluate vehicles in different aspects of drive performance at our secret proving ground in Belgium. I assessed prototype vehicles of the Ford Focus and determine what needed fixing before going into production
- Working in Cologne, Germany for 14months in the manufacturing plant as part of a Launch Team for Ford Fiesta responsible for exterior parts such as windscreen wipers and sunroofs – having designed the parts from concept I needed to make sure the manufacturing team could build with the parts
- Visiting the Ford of Australia team in Melbourne as I was working with them on development of a V6 petrol engine and participated in design reviews to ensure vehicle requirements were met
- Program management role of a diesel engine to meet Stage V emissions that is manufactured in 5 engine plants (location UK, Turkey, Thailand, South Africa & Argentina) and was designed for 4 different vehicles including Transit and Ranger.
- Starring in a Ford TV Advert! Ford marketing team wanted to use real engineers for their Ford Focus campaign and I was chosen to take part. A whole week of filming for just 54 seconds was quite a unique experience to be involved in! (see photo below)
TV Advert – me and other actors around a production engine during a break! 2012
All of these experiences and many more have allowed me to gain a senior manager level within the Product Development team for Powertrain Engineering. I am now responsible for the integration of the powertrains (engine, transmission and installation parts) in Ford Commercial Vehicles designed by the European team.
Other Good Stuff….
Along the way I have been inspired by other experiences that have enhanced my career development and found it essential to have a mentor to seek advice and guidance from. I have been lucky to have inspirational female engineering role models with Ford from my first manager 18 years ago to our current Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Ford of Europe, Barb Samardzich.
I was able to strike up my relationship with WISE again by getting involved in the Ford WISE Prize (prize awarded to penultimate year female engineering students for contributions to engineering) and nominated for a WISE Award such that I met with HRH Princess Anne at the awards ceremony. Being a STEMNET ambassador has also enabled me to reach out to schools and support various events to spread the word about how great engineering can be!
Photo: Myself and Princess Anne in 2007 when I was nominated for a WISE Prize
Another great achievement for me was to be awarded Chartered Engineer status with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) as this recognises I have reached a professional level of engineering. The IMechE has also been a great organisation for me to work with, to encourage children to consider engineering as a career. I am a member of a couple of local committees and am an elected member of Council. Just recently, I have elected as a Trustee Board member so I am looking forward to taking on this responsibility and challenge of helping the IMechE move forward in its objectives and strategies.
So why am I still in Engineering?…..simply because I am involved in the development and delivery of vehicles that customers really want, and as we strive to understand their needs and push to deliver beyond their expectations…… that’s what engineers do - “Improve the World through Engineering”
Powertrain Engineering Manager – Commercial Vehicles
Ford Motor Company
To celebrate our 30th anniversary, WISE blogs in 2014 feature women who remember WISE in the early years. Please add your comments in response to the blog below and find out more about the history of WISE.