Empowering Latinas in the Auto Industry

By Christine Bolaños and Gloria Romano-Barrera

The automotive industry has a history of being traditionally male-dominated from top to bottom. Ten Latinas representing some of the most widely-recognized and respective companies in the industry, including Hyundai Motor America, Stellantis, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Kia Motors prove otherwise. They have broken the glass ceiling in their respective companies and industry and have motivated generations of women in a variety of fields to join the automotive industry. These Latinas are transforming the automotive industry in multi-faceted ways in everything from engineering to law to global operations and marketing. They do this while graciously balancing their family life and community service, and are the epitome of Latina success.

Monique Morin Kumpis
Senior Group Manager of Brand, Marketing & Advertising Hyundai Motor America

Monique Morin Kumpis was brought up by strong role models so it’s no surprise that today she serves as Senior Group Manager of Brand Marketing & Advertising at Hyundai Motor America.

Her grandfather, Raul Morin, played a key role in forming the first Los Angeles chapter of the American GI Forum. Her grandmother, Ramona Tijerina Morin, co-founded the League of Mexican American Women to influence politics in Southern California for the benefit of women, particularly Latinas.

“When I was little she really pushed the focus on reading. Because her name was Ramona, she had me read books with her name like “Ramona the Pest” and “Ramona the Brave,” Kumpis says. “She, along with my parents, stressed the importance of education and doing well in school. When I was young I saw them overcome obstacles and make things happen.”

Today, Kumpis is making her own mark in the automobile industry. In her role as Senior Group Manager of Brand Marketing & Advertising at Hyundai, she is responsible for everything from producing TV commercials to print ads and social media marketing to point of sale kits for dealers.

“I get to do Superbowl commercial spots. I work with our agency on all of the advertising, but it’s really the idea of developing who Hyundai is to the American consumer,” Kumpis explains.

She uses her influence to increase representation of underrepresented groups both behind and in front of the camera.

Kumpis also played a crucial role in starting a new scholarship for women in STEM as part of Hyundai’s social media marketing campaign for Women’s History Month.

 

Alma Murray
Senior Counsel, Privacy Hyundai Motor America

Alma Murray was born to hard-working Mexican farmers. Their home had no indoor plumbing, running water or electricity. She was five years old when the family moved to the United States and as the oldest of three girls, she became the family translator, helping her parents with important documents like tax forms.

These experiences taught Murray the importance of resourcefulness, creativity, independence, and the value of hard work.

“(My family) would say: “Echenle ganas. Work hard.” I had that in my head and that is how I approach things,” she says.

It’s paid off. Today, Murray is Senior Counsel of Privacy at Hyundai Motor America. She founded and leads the Privacy Office within Hyundai’s Law Department. She provides counsel regarding privacy and data protection laws.

She established the Privacy Office at Hyundai in 2015, implemented the automotive Consumer Privacy Protection Principles for Vehicle Technologies and Services, and spread awareness about privacy standards in the industry such that all staff understand what privacy is, why it matters and that it makes business sense if customers trust them with their confidential information.

“Privacy is ensuring that we are being good stewards and protecting personal information of different stakeholders that provide that information to us,” Murray explains.

When she graduated law school and told a veteran lawyer she wanted to become in-house counsel within five years, they chuckled and told her it was nearly impossible to go from law school directly to in-house counsel.

“I thought to myself” ‘Well, I’ve beaten the odds before,” she says. That’s exactly what she did.

Yasmin Siu
Senior Group Manager, Purchasing Hyundai Motor America

When Yasmin Siu was 13 years old, her father passed away, and her mother, faced with raising six children on her own, sent Siu and one of her sisters to stay with an older cousin in the United States.

The Peruvian was quickly forced to adapt to a new culture and language when she started attending junior high and everyone spoke English. The reason for her mother’s difficult decision was for Siu and her sister to attend college, attain professional jobs, and one day, bring their mother to the United States. They did just that and Siu’s mother lived with her for many years before passing away.

“Before her passing, this experience I had overcome to just be here without my mom and my siblings, the loss of my dad, it’s what made me who I am today,” Siu explains. “I’m very independent and strong-willed and I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in life.”

Today, she is Senior Group Manager in Purchasing at Hyundai Motor America. In this role, Siu handles procurement within the purchasing department at Hyundai and assists all divisions within the company in purchasing goods and services for the best value, quality and terms to accomplish their goals in accordance with Hyundai’s purchasing policies and procedures.

“As senior group manager, my role is to focus on teamwork, transparency and mutual respect,” Siu says. “I believe in continuing to work together as a team and maintaining customer service and collaboration with our internal business unit to remain completely aligned and integrated in order to achieve collective goals.”

Pilar O’Hara
Project Chief – Body Mechatronics, Stellantis – North America

Joining an industry that is traditionally male-dominated can be challenging but Pilar O’Hara says women shouldn’t be intimidated. Instead, they should rise up to the challenge by standing out and excelling at their craft.

“A masculine environment can pose a great challenge to excel but in these times there are greater opportunities for diversity and inclusion,” she says. “If you want to stand out, you can achieve it, but you can’t be afraid just because you are in a room with 20 guys.”

Her perseverance and grit carried her through the early days of her career and that is why she is now Body Mechatronics Project Chief in the Product Development organization at Stellantis – North America.

In this role, O’Hara is responsible for the overall execution of Body Mechatronics component design, release and associated program management.

She is responsible for coordinating feasibility, sourcing, and tooling activities in all regions, to ensure designs are within design protocol while meeting financial, functional and quality requirements.

Born and raised in Toluca, Mexico, O’Hara, who is also part Lebanese, says her multi-cultural roots instilled in her an understanding and appreciation for diversity in cultures, language and ethnicity.

“Being Latina has helped me be very adaptable to other cultures and that helps you connect with people from other countries,” O’Hara adds. “I’ve worked with people in Brazil, India, China, and Mexico.”

Her bilingual skills, coupled with her results-driven mindset, have allowed her to move up the ranks and earned her international experience launching vehicles at assembly plants in Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S.

Maria Zehnder
Director, Head of MOPAR Finance North America, Stellantis

Maria Zehnder came to the United States from Buenos Aires, Argentina, when she was only six years old. She began school without speaking English and had to play catch-up.

Eventually, she mastered the language, developed friendships, and realized the things that were once obstacles in her life were newfound successes. These experiences lit a fire within her and from then on she has loved taking on new challenges.

“I pushed myself and never let anyone stand in my way,” Zehnder says.

That motivation led her to move up the career ladder and to where she is now as Finance Executive at Stellantis, where she is responsible for MOPAR Finance in North America.

In this role, she is responsible for all financial matters related to MOPAR operations. This includes anything from supply chain to sales and marketing, to customer care and other functions like service contracts, and connected services.

She landed her first head role when she was 35 years old. She found herself in a predominantly male-dominated industry and having to lead a seasoned staff. She knew people would judge her for her age and lack of experience but she recognized she earned her place and others soon realized that as well.

“At the end of the day, my actions speak louder than words. Never underestimate the Latina fire in us,” Zehnder explains.

She has brought transformative change to the company by opening communication lines and prioritizing transparency. Her staff knows she listens and cares and is open to their feedback.

Zehnder also makes her mark working to nurture future leaders.

Liliana Ramirez
Global Director, Lean Manufacturing and Culture
Ford Motor Company

This year, Liliana Ramirez marks her 20th anniversary at Ford Motor Company. The more seasoned a professional she becomes, the more she understands the struggles others face and that is why she wants to pave a path to make it easier to move ahead for underrepresented groups.

Ramirez serves as Global Director of Lean Manufacturing and Culture. She is responsible for overseeing the Ford Production System (FPS), learning and development, and culture in manufacturing for Ford.

“I have global responsibilities for FPS, an operating system designed to ensure we operate uniformly across plants globally. This includes how the plant starts up, runs production, handles data, engages and cares for employees, as well as managing production time,” she explains.

“FPS provides the standards to ensure Ford produces high-quality vehicles in a safe and efficient way.”

In her free time, Ramirez serves as co-chair of the Women of Ford manufacturing resource group and as executive sponsor of Ford Hispanic Network. She volunteers with nonprofits such as Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and Detroit Latino Synergy Group.

Born in Chicago and raised in Colombia, Ramirez says her greatest professional passion is the people side of business.

Her passion for human connection links back to her Latina roots and centers around the themes of family, loyalty, working together and supporting one another.

“It is my mission to help Latinas succeed,” Ramirez says. “I believe it is my responsibility to help develop them. We as leaders, need to take it upon ourselves to mentor and sponsor others.”

Sylvia Veitia
Executive Vice President of Global Operations and Customer Experience,
Ford Motor Credit Company

Sylvia Veitia’s bright legacy began when her family left Cuba for Puerto Rico during the Cuban Revolution. Her parents took only what they could fit into a suitcase to start a new life on the island. Growing up, Veitia knew well of the sacrifices her parents made so she and her sister could have prosperous futures.

Today, Veitia is Executive Vice President of Global Operations and Customer Experience at Ford Motor Credit Company.

In this role, she leads a worldwide team of 4,000 employees, oversees the global financial services provider’s business and call centers, dealer and customer experiences, and operations.

She made the global process more efficient by redesigning and optimizing operations for Ford Credit, which has $146 billion in managed receivables.

“I deal with everything from a customer calling to extend a payment on a loan to a dealer who needs help with some business process or a fleet operator with 100 vehicles who needs help with a billing statement,” Veitia explains.

Her brilliance stems from her Latina roots and her parents, who instilled in her the values of education, professional opportunity, inclusion and the family unit.

“I grew up with such a value of education, of challenge and commitment, that I thrive and really enjoy big, complex problems. That’s part of what I look for in my career,” Veitia says.

Veitia also serves as president and chair of the Global Ford Hispanic Network employee resource group. “It’s an enormous privilege and great responsibility to lead this group,” she says.

Stefanie Henkel
Assistant Manager, Corporate Branding – Global Marketing
General Motors

As a young girl, Stefanie Henkel belonged to the Catholic Pandillas de la Amistad, a Mexican-based Girl Scouts-like organization dedicated to doing good for the community. The group’s motto was “Unidos Todos Para Formar Un Mundo Mejor,” which translates to: “All together to create a better world.”

Henkel adopted this motto in her own life and it’s what led her to General Motors where she was responsible for Strategic Purchasing Planning for Customer and Aftersales up until a few weeks ago, before being promoted to a marketing role where she will play a key part in launching GM’s new logo and campaign around future electric vehicles.

Henkel led strategic initiatives for Top 6 products offered to aftersales customers, including wholesale, dealer and retail. She worked cross-functionally with suppliers and GM subsidiaries globally to review market trends, supplier capability and customer needs. She led the team to create solid strategies that allowed CCA-GM to leverage the Global Purchasing Network.

Henkel transferred from Mexico to the U.S. for work only five years ago. “When you do your best you have that feeling that everything is going to be fine,” Henkel says.

She began her career with GM in Mexico in 2012 and has held several key positions since, including on the Leadership Rotational and Developmental program. Her attraction to leadership roles doesn’t stop there. She is president of the

GM Latino Network — CCA Chapter for two years and counting. Her colleagues describe her as a “change agent” who is constantly supporting diversity and inclusion priorities within the workplace.

Nora Rincon
Structural Body Test Engineer
General Motors

Growing up as the oldest female in a traditional Mexican family, Nora Rincon was groomed to become a wife and mother. She was unaware of the opportunities just beyond the horizon until — with encouragement from a school counselor — she attended a summer engineering program at the University of Notre Dame for high school juniors. It was then that she realized her calling for engineering.

“It became my mission to make that dream come true,” she says.

Today, Rincon is Structural Body Test Engineer at General Motors. She focuses on the structural integrity of the vehicle before it’s driven by a customer or on a road. “My job is to try to break something on the body of a vehicle so it doesn’t break during the time the customer will have that vehicle,” she says. “I test for durability, tenure, and then some. We expect the look and the integrity of these body parts to work as designed.”

Rincon learned to negotiate, multi-task and feel empathy from her parents —all traits that define her as a leader.

“My Latina roots have defined me in every way,” Rincon shares. She found a support system in college through the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers where she took on leadership roles every year. The multi-award-winning professional has dedicated four years to working as program manager and 13 years to recruiting Latino talent. Start considering yourself as a rare gem that companies are seeking instead of having to overcome your look or your background,” Rincon advises early-career engineers.

Ángeles Elena Van Ryzin
Performance & Drivability Development Team Senior Engineer
Kia Motors

Born in Zacatecas, México, Ángeles Elena Van Ryzin has left her mark as an engineer on the most awarded vehicle for Kia Motors ever, the Kia Telluride, making sure it’s a smooth ride for drivers everywhere. As cars are essential to mobility, she believed that by working in the automotive industry, she would be helping people. “I joined because I have always been fascinated by cars. I don’t consider myself a car enthusiast per se, but growing up, I saw my dad work on our family cars,” shares Van Ryzin.”One of my favorite things about working in this industry is I get to see the final product on the road.”

At the age of five, her family moved to Pomona, California, where she studied and grew up with her brothers. She studied at Cal Poly Pomona University, and in 2009 graduated as a mechanical engineer. During that time, she was part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Her senior year she joined the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) where she built a racecar and competed in an international competition in Germany.

“My parents have a lot to do with not letting the mindset of ‘coches son para niños’ (cars are for boys). I have three brothers, and my parents always allowed me to play sports and get dirty with my brothers regardless of how girls are supposed to be. They supported me in what I wanted to become, and when I told them I wanted to study engineering, they were nothing but supportive,” says Van Ryzin.

In 2011 she joined the HATCI family (Hyundai-Kia Technical Center) in the powertrain department. Since then, she has focused on Kia’s new and acclaimed Telluride model, where she led the powertrain drivability design, transmission scheduling and torque calibration for the Telluride; in other words, she helped achieve the driving ease and fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

Since working with the Kia Telluride model, the Latina engineer became a first-time mom. After becoming a mother, she asserts her driving style has changed, and so has her vision for cars. “I now prioritize on smoothness; so that will probably be more focused as I work on the next vehicle,” she shares.

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