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A drive to succeed

Janine Bay capitalizes on her strengths as innovator, collaborator to stand out from the pack

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

In the 25 years since she joined Ford Motor Co., Janine Bay has climbed the ladder to become director of vehicle personalization for the automotive consumer-services group. From her office in Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters, she manages 177 employees, including 70 in Europe and 12 in Asia.

WS: After you joined Ford in 1976, did you plot a career path?

Bay: Not really. I just made the most of every job I had. Eventually, people here saw that I could take initiative and work well in an unstructured environment. Over the last 10 years, there’s only been one job that existed before I went into it. With the rest, I’ve been told, ‘We need someone to do X, Y and Z. Go create a position.’

WS: How did you earn so many promotions?

Bay: I had an executive coach awhile back who helped me. Now usually, a coach might interview you and then focus on what you need to change or what you don’t do quite right. But my coach forced me to focus on what I did well and why my strengths were important to Ford Motor Co.

WS: What are your strengths?

Bay: My coach found I had strong people skills, I was fairly entrepreneurial and fairly innovative. Twenty years ago, these skills wouldn’t be as important at Ford. Now they are. Once you know your strong suits, you can then seek out jobs that capitalize on them. Play to your strengths and you’ll get promotions.

WS: What happens if your strengths don’t jibe with your company’s needs?

Bay: That’s a good question. I remember when I went to my boss and discussed the strengths that my coach helped me identify. He said, ‘Wow. There’s always been something about you that troubled me. I could never figure out what it was.’ I allowed for the pregnant pause. He finally added, ‘My strength is discipline. If I put discipline and innovation on opposite ends of a scale, your end [innovation] is what we need now.’ What a man to admit that!

WS: It’s great that you’re an innovator. But how do you turn your ideas into action?

Bay: You need to walk a fine line between edge and arrogance. If you’re too arrogant, you’ll step on people. But if you don’t have enough edge to believe in your ideas and stick with them, you won’t get very far.

WS: You’ve led the Ford Mustang team. How did that high-profile job advance your career?

Bay: I learned how to manage diverse opinions. I took a great class on collaborative decision making in 1994. I realized if you don’t see things the same as someone else, both of you should write down how you see things, how you think the other person sees things and why there’s a difference. Then share what you’ve written.

WS: How does that help?

Bay: Writing it down forces you to think less emotionally. It desensitizes you to the situation. And it clarifies issues that you need to address. In fact, writing down how you feel about a big decision also works when evaluating career opportunities.

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