WITI Museum | Women in Science & Technology Month | 1999 | June 24
F. Suzanne Jenniches
Vice President and General Manager, Automation & Information Systems
Nominated by: Jill S. Tietjen
Excerpt from nomination: "Suzanne Jenniches serves as an outstanding role model: one of the very few technical women who have risen into the senior ranks of a major American corporation. She serves as an inspiration to women engineers and women in business through her unlimited reservior of energy, her enthusiasm for women engineers and diversity in the workplace, her success in her career, and her geniune caring for others. Her pioneering contributions have led her to achieve many firsts."
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My bachelor's of science degree is in biology and my first job was a senior high school biology teacher. That job taught me:
- Written and oral communications skills,
- organization and time management,
- motivation of a wide range of people who have varying interests, and
- teamwork with a group of professionals.
During my first year of teaching, I started a master's in environmental engineering as a supplement to my biological background; 1970 was the first year that "Earth Day" was celebrated and ecology was an emerging technology. I had 48 undergraduate credits in mathematics and engineering as a pre-requisite for the master's program. As I began the engineering courses, I discovered that I really loved the engineering more than the ecology. I went on to take a number of undergraduate electrical engineering courses. Finally my advisor suggested that I actually take the courses for the program that I was enrolled in. I did get a m.s. environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University. But I have used the undergraduate courses to start a new career as a test engineer. By applying the basic engineering knowledge and processes, I have worked as a test engineer, a manufacturing engineer, a robotics systems designer, a radar operations program manager, and heading up a business development area that resulted in the formation of a brand new Automation & Information System Division for Westinghouse in 1989.
My first job taught me that one can apply basic skills to many careers and one should not feel limited by the first career that you chose. Although I loved the day-to-day satisfaction of teaching in the classroom, I felt that I would not be challenged by this job for 35-40 years. When I studied engineering, I felt that it offered unlimited paths for career satisfaction. It was the best decision I ever made.
Who is your hero, mentor, person you most admire? Why?
I draw heavily on my attitude and drive from my mother and father. My father had a technical background in automotive mechanics and he taught me a hands-on approach to life. My mother had a business background and she taught me finances, negotiation and planning.
I have had many mentors over my engineering career and each one helped me learned skills that kept me from re-inventing the wheel. I was and still am a sponge. I will watch people in their management and decision-making skills and incorporate the technique as my own.
What is your favorite book?
I do not have a favorite book. I read as a mental vacation. I read whatever is in paperback and on the best seller list. I also read business strategy books that colleagues recommend.
What advances in your field do you envision over the next 10 years?
Automation and Information Systems is an exciting field that crosses many different types of engineering. The emergence of "E-Commerce" and the Internet has had an immense impact on the warehousing, parcel sorting, and information technology fields. Equipment to handle these needs will have to be even more flexible and cost-effective than in the past. I predict that the breadth of activities that will be conducted from the home via low cost access to the Internet will grow beyond our wildest imagination to date. I believe that micro-mechanism will become a reality and there will be a large a breakthrough in mechanically automating processes that will revolutionize how we operate both physically and biomedically.
What do you see as the most interesting element of your work?
Without a doubt, people and the marketplace create the most challenge. The engineering of a solution is the most interesting, but of little value if you can not motivate the people to bring the right product to the right market at the right time and price. Getting a laboratory success to the field where it makes a real difference for society is where the real job satisfaction is optimized for the engineer.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment is getting my engineering degree when I do not remember hearing the word "engineering" until the age of twenty-three. This degree set the stage for whatever else I have accomplished in my professional life.
What do your greatest challenge and what did you learn from it?
The greatest challenge that I have faced recently is the establishment of a new commercial business area within a major defense company. I was given the opportunity to take our vast engineering and manufacturing base and focus it on a new product and service marketplace. It allowed the company to expand its diversity while providing profitable growth and job stability for its employees.
I learned that basic engineering skills are very transferable from one environment to another. The versatility and creativeness of the engineers is amazing. Given a problem, a chance to investigate possible alternatives, and an opportunity to study what advances have already been made in this new field is the fundamentals of every engineer's dream. Our future depends on the innovation of engineers and this experience has made me very optimistic about the future of the US.
What advice would you give to young women who want to enter your field?
Sometimes we are our own worse enemy when it comes to success. We see barriers and limitations that really exist only in our minds. Young women must have the courage and self confidence to tackle what at first seems insurmountable.
Some career development lessons that I have learned over the years in engineering and management:
Timing is everything.
These basic skills are as important as the formal education:
- Being in the right place at the right time ... with the right skills (or the potential to rapidly acquire them) is sometimes more important to career advancement than being the perfect person.
- Endurance is extremely important to success. Work smarter and harder than the next person.
Attitude will separate you from the pack.
- Common sense
- Juggling or multi-tasking
- Ability to think and speak on your feet
- Multi-dimensional skills rotational assignments for the first 5-7 years of your career will broaden your perspective on the business. This creates multiple paths or networks for your career path.
Willingness to take risk.
- Can-do mindset - there is nothing too small or big, too difficult or trivial.
- Be a team player - able to see the problem from various perspectives and reach consensus for the good of the project
- Do whatever it takes to get the total job done.
- Willing to make a big personal investment today for the potential of a big gain tomorrow
- Seen as able to break new ground
- Takes on high visibility assignments and the risk that accompanies them
- Able to balance the impact of these assignments on family, friends, and your own well-being
- When the gain isn't worth the price, then the wisdom to realize that you have reached your niche and your career goal.
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