Ask Yansong Chen how she got her start in the auto industry and she’ll you tell that like many, she simply followed in her parents’ footsteps. Her path, while seemingly common, did involve a unique twist or two. For instance, her parents helped to pioneer China’s first automotive enterprise, First Automobile Works (FAW). Some of her earliest and favorite memories are of talking with her parents about their experiences and the rise of the country’s exciting, new enterprise. So inspired by the possibilities, at age 19, Yansong packed her bags and left China for the United States to attend GMI, now Kettering University. From there, her journey continued by joining Delphi, where she’s carved out a career that’s included engineering, finance and strategy planning. Now, nearly 20 years later, Yansong finds herself in the position of chief engineer, Global Engineering Operations.
Describe your typical day.
It’s a lot of travel and meetings right now as we work to solidify our foundations for growth in electrification and power electronics. It’s a challenging time. The market demand is there. The customer need is there. And we have to be there – ready to innovate, keep pace and deliver. There are days, of course, when I miss the lab, but the job I have now is centered in shaping our engineering future. The tradeoff is worth it.
What exciting projects are you working on now?
Our focus is on refining our engineering operations post spin-off. A tremendous amount of work was done pre-separation in areas such as resources, facilities and patents. We’ve got more than 130 product programs to launch in 2018. We had to be sure we were ready to meet our customer commitments. A few capability gaps did emerge, though, and our task now is to quickly close them. We’re also evaluating our footprint to align to future customer and market needs.
You worked on Delphi’s first 48-volt mild hybrid efforts. What was that like?
It was exciting. I was responsible for coordinating the cross-divisional projects used on the demonstration vehicle. We had development activities from all the divisions – smart architectures, intelligent vehicle systems, route planning, power electronics – that all had to come together, all had to work together. I also managed the teams running the simulations, gathering the data and providing the analyses to guide implementation and optimization. We pushed ourselves, and our technologies, in new ways to see what was possible. It was future-forward, certainly, but we constructed it so that it could become real. We created the roadmap; and it’s one we’re now following.
Why have you built your career at Delphi?
It’s about family. From the first day to now – the people and the opportunities the company has provided – have made it feel like home. When I started a family, Delphi worked with me to achieve a balance that allowed me to grow and stay challenged, and have the time I needed with my family. I’ve worked hard, pushed myself, focused on my goals. I’ve been my own advocate; Delphi has encouraged and nurtured this.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Staying true to myself and not forgetting who I am. As a woman, you tend to adapt. You run into attitudes and situations, positive and negative, which can shape you. I’ve had to learn to embrace the good and let go of the bad, and just be me.
What advice would you offer today’s women in STEM?
Know what you want and create a plan to achieve it. You are responsible for your own development, your own career. And don’t just own it; sell it. Also, find your mentors. They may be fellow engineers and scientists; they may not. Look for the people that will inspire you, that will challenge you, that can see what you can’t and be honest with you about your choices. Another thing: Be open to possibilities. My career hasn’t been a straight path. I’ve worked in marketing, insights, technology and finance, which have allowed me to push myself and to learn from others in ways I certainly would have missed had I followed a narrowly defined path. Finally, have a big heart. You can stand your ground and lead with humility, empathy, with kindness. You don’t have to choose. Success can be achieved in the willingness to push – and to bend.