Watch Magna International Global Director – Factory of the Future, Body & Chassis Sree Anandavally and hear her inspiring story in the manufacturing industry.
Leading Women in Manufacturing is a video series showcasing female role models in the sector who, by sharing their career journeys and lessons learned, are aiming to inspire and advance tomorrow's women leaders in manufacturing.
Hande Akseki: Welcome, Sree. We’re so happy to have you here and very much looking forward to our conversation today.
Sree Anandavally: Thank you so much Hande. And I'm so happy to be here too.
Hande Akseki: Awesome. So, let's get right into it. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the experiences you had that influenced your career path so far?
Sree Anandavally: I have 18 years of experience, all of it in automotive. I have 14 years of experience at Magna and currently I hold the position of the Global Director for Industry 4.0 and factory of the future. Prior to that, I was the Director of Engineering and I oversaw CAD/CAE testing - and advanced manufacturing teams for North America. I have a Master's degree in mechanical engineering with specialization in solid mechanics. My core background is in crash simulation. That's where I started my career. And once I was done learning about crash, I moved on to NVH and durability and fatigue for both sub-system level, component level, and full-vehicle level simulations.
Hande Akseki: You clearly have a very impressive background. Could you tell us some of the key success factors that help you achieve your goals along the way? What are some of the lessons learned that elevated your professional career?
Sree Anandavally: For me, it was very important to like what I do. It is very important. That helps me go and put my wholehearted effort into what I'm doing. And it's always important to be curious. One can never stop learning. So you have to be curious. And when you're given a problem, try to dive into the details and make data-driven decisions and keep emotions out of those decision-making processes. And it's important to be a good team player; and a good team player not only is proactive and contributing, but also should be a good listener, should be a good mentor, and most importantly, for me, it's holding everything to the highest standards possible, not just for me, but for my team, who's supporting my goals and objectives. It's also important, I would say, to mentor your team members in achieving their goals as well, because that helps keep them motivated and they'll be willing to explore and innovate and bring better, newer things into the organization and to the team. I would say, in essence, it's very important, and I've learned the hard way, that it's very important to lead as an example in everything you do.
I have thrown myself into many new areas where I had no prior experience and no prior knowledge sometimes. An example would be when I was in simulation I wanted to develop equal simulations. I had no clue about computational fluid dynamics because my background was in structures. But I was willing to explore, learn, get my hands dirty and I was able to close out a gap for my company. And when you seek out those kind of opportunities and you close up those gaps for your company, it comes with a lot of recognition. It gives you more opportunities, more responsibilities get handed to you, and that gives you actually that opportunity to grow in your organization, get more rounded in what you want to be, and you become more valuable to your organization as well.
So, if I look back at my career, I introduced multibody simulation, I introduced multidisciplinary optimization. I got into different manufacturing process simulations. I brought in data analysis into my team. I worked on AI/ML. So, I've gone all over the place, not because I knew it, but I was willing to get out of my comfort zone and explore new venues, new tools, new processes, because that gives you the opportunity to shine and bring recognition for your hard work and for you to be successful in your career.
Hande Akseki: I love how you went above and beyond and were willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone, which obviously shaped you as the leader that you are today. But were there any role models in your life that inspired you along the way?
Sree Anandavally: My mom and my sister have been very important focal people in my life and some of the values that I have today are basically what my mom taught me. And that includes ethics, my confidence, some of those core values, honour, respect - and just being a woman.
And my sister, she's another example for me. She's the innovation engineer with a major US based enterprise IT hardware provider. And she's got an amazing career herself. But on the professional side, it’s been pretty much mostly men. I've been surrounded by men. Some of them have been indifferent, I would say. And in doing so, actually, motivated me to be as good and if not better than them. But I would say I was very fortunate to be surrounded by men who have been extremely supportive, extremely motivating and being there when I needed them.
So I had a very fortunate journey so far. If I really look back throughout my career, I had about six managers, five of them are from Magna because I've spent my most time in Magna, and they've been extremely supportive of me being a woman. My gender was never a hindrance to them. It was all about my caliber, what Sree brings to the table, what's the expertise she brings to the table. And that's all that mattered to them. So, I've been fortunate that way.
Hande Akseki: This is great advice. Obviously getting the right mentorship from both genders is clearly crucial for the success of young women. If you had the chance to go back in time 20 years, what career advice would you have for your younger self?
Sree Anandavally: 20 years ago I was very focused on getting my master's degree done, get my first job, get more rounded, get to become a better engineer. That was my focus. And all I wanted to do at that time was to just absorb everything I could. And I wanted to be the best in crash engineering at that time. Full vehicle crash was my very focused area of interest. And once I was done learning that, I went onto durability, I went onto fatigue, I went onto NVH. Then I was curious about manufacturing processes. I went onto doing weld simulations and E-code simulations that got me more and more rounded. And that's going back to what I said earlier. It's important to never stop learning. So, if I look back at myself 20 years from now, I would say keep at it. If anything, just do it more passionately and enjoy everything that, I would, I was doing. And there are a lot of good things to come. It's been an amazing journey for me that's led to the position I am where I'm leading and strategizing for Industry 4.0 and digitization for the body and chassis group for Magna.
Hande Akseki: I love how you are using all these principles and have built your career based on continuously improving yourself. What are some of the challenges that you see in the sector for young woman to succeed, though?
Sree Anandavally: I would say it's got to do with a lot of perception around manufacturing in general. Manufacturing has been very male dominated. It's been perceived to be very laborious in heavy equipment and not so fun maybe. But there's a lot that's changed. And it could be because women have been underrepresented in the manufacturing area. But the reality is this industry is going through a major change. There's so much of digitization that's happened in the last few decades, and we need to create that awareness and make sure that women are comfortable and confident and tell them success stories of other women in this industry to show them that they are equally capable of taking on these kind of jobs, working shoulder to shoulder with men and other people of different walks. And we need to encourage young girls and women to pursue STEM programs because, in the end of the day, a diverse organization is the most innovative organization. And the time is absolutely ripe right now. And opportunities are unlimited. Women and young girls, you just need to be willing at this point.
Hande Akseki: That's absolutely right. And can you tell us, how does Magna create opportunities for women?
Sree Anandavally: So, Magna has been a very global company. We have a huge global presence across. And we have people from different walks of the world within Magna. And we have several forums where women from different parts of the world can network with women either internally or externally as well. And there's a lot of opportunities to share those experiences. And one such would be the diversity and inclusion program that we have. So, it helps us come to one such forum to exchange our experiences, provide support and encouragement to fellow women. Also, we have a Women's Exchange Employee Resource Community as well, which is again striving to empower women, to mentor, develop and upskill, and also recognize women employees and to attract that new talent pool, that untapped talent pool, right, and bring them into Magna. So this community is huge and promotes a lot of inclusive environment to enable women and advance their skills. And especially to leadership levels. So there's these opportunities and not just to bring them in, but to get them the right skillset and the opportunities to take on leadership positions within Magna.
Hande Akseki: Great to hear about these amazing initiatives by Magna! Why do you think it's important to build awareness in the manufacturing sector of women who are making a significant change?
Sree Anandavally: So manufacturing is going through a major change, and it's important for us to create enough awareness so that young women start looking at manufacturing with a different set of lenses. And this can be done by showcasing the success stories of all of those women in manufacturing and within the industry. Automotive and other manufacturing sectors as well. And to show them that manufacturing is not a road not taken. It could be your successful career path for you. So don't be fearful, take it on and it can be an amazing career opportunity for a lot of women.
I would say, right now, within the manufacturing sector, there's huge labour shortage and this actually opens up a lot of opportunities across manufacturing domains. Again, going back to digitization, autonomous vehicles, electrification. It's not about all the heavy equipment, but there's so many different domains and areas within manufacturing that's opening up unlimited opportunities for women to take on new career paths. And yes, there have been changes within the industry and a lot of companies, inclusive of Magna, we're making a lot of effort to bring in that untapped talent pool among young women and young girls. But I think we all can do a little more. And there's more and more room to grow in this space.
Hande Akseki: These are great ideas and great advice for young women. But let's talk about the future. How do you think the manufacturing sector can become more innovative and what role do women play in enabling its success?
Sree Anandavally: So manufacturing is going through a major overhaul and it's becoming highly digitized. If you really think about it we're at the fourth revolution, which is a major milestone in the industry. The third revolution happened about 50 years ago, which is about half century ago. So, this is the most happening moment at this time in the coming few decades. This is the most happening time. And Industry 4.0 all requires that we democratize and leverage our data throughout using artificial intelligence and machine learning, data analysis, etc. to achieve our operational excellence targets. Now, what this does is basically opening up a lot of opportunities for women and young girls in the areas of research and development and innovation, data analysis, data science, software development. The laundry list is huge. So there's a lot of opportunities and there is a lot that can be done at this moment. So again, it's a matter of creating that awareness and getting them to do more of STEM-related projects. And they could have a very successful bright career path.
Hande Akseki: Thank you so much, Sree. You were a pioneer in your career, but what would be your advice to women to become trailblazers and inspire others to make a significant impact in the manufacturing sector?
Sree Anandavally: I would say the women who are in the industry today, it's important to tell their success stories, to tell them what the experiences have been, what our thought process has been to get us where we are. Tell us what we have, what kind of feelings we went through. Did we have any specific experiences that's worth sharing with fellow women, ideas that we worked on to so that give them the opportunity to be more motivated to do something new, being able to give them the right forums to connect with one another. And as women, we need to empower ourselves and also empower fellow women in our industry. And it's important to instill that confidence and that optimism in women. And then persistence is very, very important. But it's in the strength, in knowing that if you fail it's okay. But it's more important that you come back with more passion and more resilience. That's most important.
Hande Akseki: So, these are great points about empowerment. Allyship and perseverance are key to success. What do you think the future of manufacturing holds for young women entering the workforce today?
Sree Anandavally: We can't ask for a better moment in a long time. This is the peak of a lot of innovation that's happening within manufacturing, electrification, autonomous, Industry. 4.0, factory of the future, connectivity. There are so many things happening at this moment. Especially in the automotive vertical there is a lot happening. This is the most, I would say, a very innovative period. The future is extremely ripe and there's unlimited opportunities. I would say no matter what comes your way, no matter how difficult, no matter how unfair you may think you have been treated or no matter how unfair you have been treated, make up your mind not just to survive, but to thrive, to succeed. And I think that's very important to take away.
Hande Akseki: So, the future is bright and exciting for young women in STEM, and we are very excited for everyone to hear your story and successes and get inspired by you. Sree - thank you very much for joining us today.
Sree Anandavally: Thank you, Hande. Thank you for this opportunity. And I was super happy to be here.
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