Grace Lieblein - On top of her game

May 19, 2006

For this GM chief engineer keeping her focus and standing up for her beliefs has added up to professional success.

Grace Lieblein '83 was one of very few women students at Kettering University (then GMI) in the early 1980s. The gender gap wasn't much better when she went "pro" after graduating. One of her biggest challenges was "getting used to being one of the few women in the field. You get used to some of that in college, but it's even more pronounced as you enter the field professionally," said Lieblein, Vehicle chief engineer-Front Wheel Drive Trucks for the Product Development at General Motors.

But she persevered, sometimes standing up for a position that she was the only one promoting and over time building her credibility. "Once you've done that, people don't see you as a woman, but as a good leader or a good engineer," she said.

It all paid off. The new millenium has been good for Lieblein. In 2001, 2003, and 2005, Hispanic Business Magazine recognized her as one of the top 50 businesswomen in the United States. In 2003 and 2005, the Hispanic Engineer and Informational Technology Magazine recognized her as one of the most powerful Hispanics in business and technology.

In 2004, the Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Conference (HENNAC) awarded Lieblein with its Professional Achievement Award, and in 2005, Automotive News named her as one of the Top 100 Women in the Auto Industry. Most recently, she was named "Latino Executive of the Year" as part of the 2006 Urban Wheels Awards.

All the recognition hasn't gone to her head though. "My career has progressed much beyond my expectations," she said, "and in areas that I had not anticipated. I don't believe in focusing on the next job or promotion, but rather I try to enjoy the job I'm in and do that job to the best of my abilities."

What has contributed most to her professional success in automotive engineering is working well with others, she said. "Then getting results and knowing the business. At this point, I don't do engineering design myself. But, as chief engineer, I'm in a position to make decisions that significantly effect the products I'm responsible for," said Lieblein.

She chose the relatively non-traditional career for women - automotive engineering - because she was good in math and science and her brother-in-law, who is an engineer, introduced her to the field as a career opportunity. She also had the support of family. "My parents always told me that I could be anything I wanted, so I really didn't see this as 'non-traditional,'" said Lieblein.

She chose to attend Kettering (then GMI) on the advice of her father. "My father was an hourly employee at a GM assembly plant in California. He had seen GMI grads come through the plant and the great opportunities they had. He really influenced me," said Lieblein.

In addition to getting her career jump-started, Kettering/GMI also influenced her personal life. "I met my husband at GMI and we married while we were still in college," she said. "We'll be celebrating our 25 year anniversary next month." The couple, who live in Rochester Hills, Mich., have a daughter, Ally, who will be 15 this summer, and who has inherited both her math genes and is interested in Engineering or Architecture.

Recognizing that others had helped guide her decisions and created opportunities for her, Lieblein lends her support to efforts that help mentor others. She is the GM key executive of the New Mexico State college relations team, a champion of the GM "Women in Engineering" initiative and is a board member of the GM Hispanic Initiative Team.

In addition, she and her husband and daughter volunteer with their dog as a therapy dog at a local nursing home and work at a local food bank.

Lieblein began her GM career in 1978 as a co-op student at General Motors Assembly Division in Los Angeles, Calif. She received a bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering from Kettering University in 1983 and a master's degree in Management - Materials/Logistics from Michigan State University in 1987. While at Kettering/GMI she was a member of Beta Sigma Phi sorority.

Written by Dawn Hibbard