European Leading Women
Name: Katherine Worthen
Title: Vice president purchasing and supply chain Europe
Company: Opel Group
Location: Ruesselsheim, Germany
Age: 42
Family: Husband, Stephan; daughters, Addison, 15, Emma, 13, Ava, 7
Born: Flint, Michigan, USA
Nationality: USA
Languages: English
Education: Master's degree in business administration, Walsh University, North Canton, Ohio, USA; bachelor's degree in business administration, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, USA

Katherine Worthen

What attracted you to the automotive industry?

My passion for the automotive industry started from a young age because I am the daughter of a retired General Motors manager. I was exposed to a lot of the fascinating aspects of the automotive industry at a young age. I vividly remember going to “family day” at GM assembly plants, where we got to see how vehicles were made. They also arranged interactive projects for us. I grew up wanting to be around cars and driving cars.

First automotive job?

My first job was with EDS (Electronic Data Systems), working for Chevrolet Motor Division. I was the liaison with the dealerships on warranty and quality issues within the vehicle. This gave me the chance to work directly with service managers at dealerships around the United States. This experience provided me a great foundation of knowledge about all aspects of the product.

What was your big break?

While I can’t single out one big break, a key attribute to my success has been the incredible leaders I have had while working at GM. They have allowed me to take risks, supported me when I have made tough decisions and held me accountable to run the business.

What is the major challenge you have faced in your career?

The biggest challenge was the global financial crisis that impacted the automotive industry from 2008 to 2010. Managing the purchasing and supply chain of chassis components through this time period provided challenges that put GM production at risk on a daily basis. The company and our suppliers faced intense financial constraints. The prices of fuel and steel were increasing and instability was at its peak. The volumes were dropping and costs to keep things running were increasing. This situation required a change in mindset, quick strategy development and overall urgent crises management. It was an incredibly challenging time, during which I learned the value of partnership, trust, teamwork, commitment and perseverance.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I met a key person about 15 years ago who has been instrumental in my life both personally and professionally. She is a professional within the industry who has provided me with guidance and advice through various tough challenges. I am fortunate to have found a friend who pushes me to be better, expects me to succeed and holds me accountable to reach my potential. When I was raising my young children and finding way she taught me the most important lesson: You must have balance personally to have success professionally.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry?

Continuing the efforts of mentorship and being actively engaged in organizations and schools with young females is important. Providing young women the visibility into the automotive industry at a young age can instill drive and passion for the industry that will enable more females to make the choice to enter our field professionally. Having spent years as a Girl Scout troop leader, I have witnessed how career dreams start early.

What is your favorite weekend activity? 

Spending time with family and watching my kids’ sporting events.

What keeps you awake at night?

Risk in the supply chain keeps me up at night. That includes everything from natural disasters to equipment failures to capacity constraints. When you manage more than 50,000 contracts and 910 suppliers that are moving parts around the globe every day, the opportunity for disruption is huge. Managing disruption is part of the job.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know?

A lot of people know I like to drive, but growing up I loved it so much that my passion was to be a pace car driver or truck driver.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?  

William C. Durant. I think it would be very interesting to discuss his vision and what the automotive industry looked like when he co-founded GM in comparison to what we are seeing now. We will experience more change now than we have seen in more than 50 years.

If I had to do it all over again, I would…

Not change anything. Everything up to this point is the foundation for future success. That includes good and bad choices. Through my career I have learned to embrace the winding road of challenges, changes and decisions.

What and where was your last vacation?

In June my family along with my brother and his family took a Mediterranean cruise. We stopped in amazing locations. It was a terrific experience for our families filled with culture, history and beautiful scenery.

Name one talent you wish you had.

Greater proficiency in foreign languages.

Best advice you’ve ever received.

Take on challenging assignments, especially the assignments people don’t want. Work with integrity and passion and make every new assignment successfully your own. Don’t ever become complacent. 

What advice would you give your child? 

Go after your dreams with passion. You will stumble along the way, but do not quit, learn and grow from your experiences. It is with the growth and knowledge of these experiences, both good and bad, that success and accomplishment is achieved.

If you were a car, what car would you be?

From our current portfolio, I would be a 2016 Astra Sports Tourer. The 2016 European Car of the Year represents connectivity, functionality, efficiency, reliability and design. In my life, I strive for connectivity, efficiency and reliability both personally and professionally.

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