Held each year in conjunction with the North American International Auto Show, the Urban Wheel Awards, which drew about 2,500 people last night, is designed to connect the multicultural community with the auto industry.
Hosted by Randi Payton, president and CEO of On Wheels Inc. and his lovely wife Karen Payton, the event is sponsored by each auto manufacturer and proceeds from the awards benefit the Edward Davis Education Foundation, which provides scholarships, mentoring and internships to students who are pursuing careers in the auto industry.
The Urban Wheel Awards have helped automakers connect with a multicultural audience, drawing some 200 minority journalists who wouldn't normally go to the auto show.
Deborah Coleman was honored with the Urban Wheels 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award during the event. Her inspiring story as a young African American woman, her degree in psychology in hand and a burning desire to help families that serendipitously landed her a job at an auto manufacture began her rise from a working class family in St. Louis to make history as the first woman at Ford to run a vehicle assembly plant. Deborah Coleman, whose jobs have included a post as CEO and group managing director of Ford Motor Co. of South Africa, recently retired from her final role at Ford as executive director of quality after 19 years of service.
Coleman is one of the highest-ranking African American women in the automobile industry, but her sights weren’t always on the industry. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at Southern Illinois University, and a master s degree in that field from Washington University. Her plan was to become an industrial psychologist. But fate thrust her into a pilot program at a competitive company, to see if liberal arts graduates could be trained to function in a manufacturing environment. For Coleman, the "experiment", as she calls it, was an unqualified success.
"You needed technical skills, yes, but you also need the ability to work with, interact and lead people," she said. Coleman was immersed in variety of engineering and technical courses, and went on to earn a master s degree in business administration.
Joining Ford in 1987, she progressed from working as an area manager at an assembly plant, to holding several management positions in manufacturing, to making history, as the first woman at Ford to run a vehicle assembly plant. She said her ability to foster teamwork is critical to her success.
"That engagement, the critical mass that comes from a team of committed individuals, is how I've been able to achieve the accomplishments I have throughout my career," she said.
Congratulations Deborah on your well deserved award.