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Driven to succeed
Buckeye engineer Jackie DiMarco is behind the wheel of Ford’s F-150 pickup truck
Jackie Marshall DiMarco, chief engineer for the longtime best-selling Ford F-150 pickup, downplays being the first woman to hold the position in the truck’s 60-plus years of production.
Women fill about 20 percent of engineering jobs at major automotive companies. That figure has remained steady in recent years, she said, noting that the percentages are lower for women at the management level of the firms.
“People don’t realize the job is about leadership and business management,” DiMarco said, describing her work as entrepreneurial. “I coordinate the work of 100 people, each with their own objectives. I focus on time management, deliverables, and being an effective leader.”
Life has changed since DiMarco’s high school days in Youngstown, when she had no idea what engineers did. She was planning to go to medical school, but at a career fair, she met engineers from the local General Motors plant. She liked what she heard and realized the field might be a good fit, given her aptitude for math and physics.
DiMarco went on to study mechanical engineering at Ohio State, with an eye to working in the biomedical or construction industries. But it was her involvement with the university’s Center for Automotive Research during her junior year that defined her future.
“I was intrigued by automotive engineering and a bit intimidated,” she said. “I envisioned that all future auto engineers began by working on their own cars, and I hadn’t.”
DiMarco joined a student vehicle project team to pick up elective credit outside the classroom. Her new interest kept her up many nights, building and tinkering and preparing Formula Electric battery-powered race cars for competition. She developed another interest, too: she met Pat DiMarco, a graduate student and adviser—and her future husband.
After completing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Ohio State, DiMarco went to work at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., in 1996. She started in power trains, developing engines and transmissions, then moved on to designing exhaust systems, supervising an assembly line, and engineering vehicle dynamics. In 2001, she earned a master’s degree in business adminis-tration from the University of Michigan.
Four years later, she was promoted to Mustang program manager; she managed the new body style that debuted in 2010 and the new engines introduced in 2011. She also worked at the manu-facturing plant to ensure precision with the product launch and quality.
Her current job is demanding, she said, “especially around a product launch. Manufacturing and marketing plans must be considered, and dates must be hit on time with high-quality results. Meetings are held all hours.”
Not surprisingly, the DiMarcos, who live in Ann Arbor, have had to make hard choices about balancing career and family.
Pat works for Ford Racing as the company’s NASCAR program manager. He oversees the team’s technical support and developed the new NASCAR-sanctioned body style of the 2013 Ford Fusion.
The couple’s tween daughters, twins Sydney and Nicole, see the hours their parents work and their dedication. That’s a good thing, DiMarco said; they know they have career options they may not have had in an earlier era. “Both are excellent science and math students, and Nicole plans to be an engineer and inventor. She is interested in how things work,” she said. “They live in a world where nearly anything is possible.”
In 2006, DiMarco was getting ready to roll out Ford’s “Warrior for Pink” Mustang package, a group of options whose purchase raises money for breast cancer education and research through Susan G. Komen for the Cure. A few months later, at the age of 34, she was diagnosed with the disease, even though she had no risk factors. The shock, she said, “highlighted to me how any of us can be affected when we least expect it.” After undergoing several surgeries, she received an excellent prognosis.
“I am blessed to be a survivor while so many are still being lost each year to breast cancer, and I am proud to work for a company that is committed to my survival,” she said.
DiMarco unabashedly loves her work and its challenges. And of course, there are the cars. She drove an F-150 for many years, although she has switched to a Fusion; Pat drives a Flex.
“Cars are such a personal decision,” she said. “People are eager to share their thoughts and memories when they learn what I do. That excitement fuels me to produce the best product.”
Reprinted with permission from the September/October 2013 issue of Ohio State Alumni Magazine.
Written by Terri Stone