Barb Samardzich: Redefining the Global Auto Business
As Vice President, Product Development, for Ford of Europe, Barb Samardzich (M.S. 1985) is helping to reshape the international automotive industry during an era of extreme change.
“Today we’re faced with higher expectations from customers, tighter regulatory and safety requirements, and tougher environmental standards,” says Samardzich, who is based in Cologne, Germany. “We can’t compromise in any one of those areas — and, at the end of the day, we also have to run a profitable company. It’s challenging, but exciting, to work in the global automotive industry today. I juggle a lot of different priorities."
Samardzich attended MechE as a part-time graduate student, while working full-time at Westinghouse’s Nuclear Fuels Division as a Thermal Design Engineer.
“I was drawn to Pittsburgh by the strong reputations of both Westinghouse and Carnegie Mellon,” Samardzich recalls. “Having attended the University of Florida for my undergrad degree — which had 5000 engineering students — I was looking for a graduate environment where I could get to know my teachers and receive personal attention. I wanted a strong sense of community, and I found that at MechE."
Samardzich’s graduate work on heat transfer dovetailed perfectly with her daytime position at Westinghouse, while taking her deeper into thermal engineering topics that fascinated her. “I’ve always been someone who’s interested in more than a surface-level understanding of technical problems,” says Samardzich. "I want to know the underlying physics and equations. I believe that kind of technical knowledge base is what makes someone a great engineer, no matter their job or field. At MechE, I was learning foundational principles that could be applied to a range of engineering problems."
Samardzich first joined Ford as a “trailing spouse” when her husband Raul Samardzich (M.B.A. Tepper, 1990) was recruited by Ford after earning his own Carnegie Mellon degree. She quickly proved her own value at Ford in a variety of positions, including Chief Engineer for the F-Series Super Duty Commercial Trucks and Chief Engineer for Automatic Transmission Operations. As Executive Director, Small Four-Wheel Drive and Rear-Wheel Drive Vehicles, Samardzich was responsible for the design, engineering, and development of nine key Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln vehicles, including the 2005 MY Mustang. A winner of numerous industry awards, Samardzich served as Vice President, Powertrain Operations, before assuming her current position at Ford of Europe.
“The technical depth I gained at MechE has allowed me to easily bounce back and forth between line management and engine design during my 23 years at Ford,” notes Samardzich. “While I never could have envisioned my exact career path, the Department provided me with the perfect in-depth training for my many roles."
Today, Samardzich spends much of her time addressing “big picture” business challenges impacting the future of the auto industry. But she still applies the skills she learned at MechE every day. “Even though I am no longer a working engineer, my job as an engineering manager is about delivering value to customers,” says Samardzich. “And that value is based in innovation, technology, and problem solving. So the fundamentals I learned at MechE are still serving me well, as I help Ford of Europe look toward a very different future.”