Taking the reins: Women in the automation in charge of their own career paths
May 8, 2023
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh
The automation and technology sectors have different types of opportunities for women who wish to pursue their careers here. Three women in leadership roles share their experiences of prospering in roles of their choice.
Project Manager, Ethos Automation
Growing up, Alessia Alfieri always had an interest in understanding how things work. When the time came to choose a profession that would capture her interests, she opted to pursue Mechanical Engineering at McMaster University. To get some hands-on experience while still a student, Alfieri took up an opportunity to do a co-op stint with Magna International. That is where she met her current boss, the co-founder of Ethos Automation, Peter Botros. When Botros started the company with Calvin Kimura, he offered Alfieri a position as a project manager.
At Magna, Alfieri did not leave any stone unturned to learn about working in the industry. “I got my hands on a lot of different machines. I got a lot of good experience that I still use to this day in my current role,” she says.
As a project manager at Ethos, Alfieri works with customers and the Ethos team to ensure that all automation project goals are met within the stipulated deadlines. She enjoys working with people from different disciplines, including millwrights, electricians, PLC programmers and robot programmers, to name a few. This, she says, allows for a tremendous amount of knowledge-sharing.
The dynamic tasks and challenging projects that come along the way keep Alfieri constantly motivated. “There is no redundant task. I travel to sites for installations. I’m often on the floor, meeting other integrators. And there is always so much to learn,” she says.
Alfieri took up this leadership opportunity when she was 24. As a young woman in a leadership role in automation, she had to work hard to prove herself, especially when working with more experienced people in the industry. “Once people worked with me, they accepted that although I am young, I am competent and understand what is required for the jobs,” she shares.
Alfieri often spends time on the machine shop floor, wiring up panels, running electricals and so on. While the learning curve was steep in the beginning, the hands-on approach helped in doing her job successfully from the get-go.
At present, Alfieri is particularly excited about working on a major project for an automotive manufacturer. “With the compact timeline that the project has and the fact that we’ve been able to produce quality parts off the lines within seven months, makes me feel proud. This has probably been my biggest achievement so far,” she says.
CEO, Eigen Innovations
Erin Barrett had never planned on pursuing a career in the automation and manufacturing sectors. In her previous roles, she worked in sales and marketing positions. However, Barrett spent considerable time working with engineers, something that worked as an advantage when she joined Eigen Innovations six years ago.
Barrett fell in love with the passion that Eigen’s founder Scott Everett has for the company and its products and solutions. Eigen Innovations offers smart vision solutions for smart factories. “It is game-changing technology. Once I made the decision to move to Eigen I didn’t look back even though I didn’t have an automation and manufacturing background,” shares Barrett.
Having joined when the company was newly established, Barrett worked with customers to help create the company’s product suite. She had a significant influence over product strategy, besides managing sales and marketing. Barrett also worked as the chief revenue officer at Eigen before taking charge as CEO in September 2022.
“As CEO, my mandate is to ensure that we have a team that is focused and we’re measuring success the right way. It is to ensure that we are all on the same page regarding the company’s vision and objectives,” says Barrett.
Not coming in from an automation background, Barrett worked hard to earn the trust of Eigen’s team and customers. She spent a lot of time listening to people and visiting factory floors to understand the technologies.
Barrett shares that her confidence in leading the company comes from the people that she works with. “In a leadership role, the key is to make sure you’re getting the right inputs with the right experience to make the right call at any given moment.”
Seeing Eigen’s technology solutions implemented in customers’ factories firsthand leaves Barrett with a sense of pride in the company and its work.
For women considering career paths similar to Barrett’s, she advises them to follow their passion and instincts and to step out of their comfort zones to gain fresh knowledge.
Co-president, OTTO Motors
Carolyn Garvey’s worked in an automation company at the beginning of her career. With her firm background in finance, she moved on to traditional CPA roles in different sectors. She worked in leadership positions in large firms, helping with risk management activities. When the current opportunity came up, Garvey was offered the chance to make a difference in a smaller company and help scale it up and grow.
“That excited me because it felt like I could take everything I learned over all those years and apply it operationally to help the company. I believe that accountants and engineers are close cousins. We are analytical and mathematical,” shares Garvey.
She felt an immediate affinity for the people she works with every day. “We speak the same language and the company I joined has a lot of potential, as well as talent. I was excited to come in and unlock that potential.”
Garvey is currently co-president of OTTO Motors, a division of ClearPath Robotics, as well as the CFO of the consolidated company. She shares that what she loves most about her role is mentoring young leaders.
“The Deloitte Best Match program talks about building the capacity and capabilities of teams, people and processes. That’s how I focus. I help the team members and team leaders develop their potential and expand their capabilities. That’s the best part of my job,” she explains.
Garvey shares that as a leader in an automation company, she has seen the company go through typical business challenges, such as supply chain disruptions, labour shortages and so on.
Looking back at projects that were particularly memorable for Garvey, she shares that many of them involved putting processes in place that were game-changers for the business.
“We put in an ERP system at Prodomax and that set the company up for the next 10 years of positive growth and prosperity. We took that same system and approach and put it in a facility in Michigan, and other companies. These were big projects with year-long rollouts. I worked with the companies to get the buy-in. Our excellent team did the heavy lifting,” shares Garvey.
She adds that providing strategic direction to the company is a favourite aspect of her role. At Prodomax, she was able to help take the company from delivering $2 million projects to up to $30 million projects.
To women considering a career in this industry, Garvey suggests taking up co-op opportunities at different companies and working in different departments to learn, grow and prosper.
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