A lot has changed since Rose Ryntz started her chemistry study in the late 1970s.
“[It was] not as safe as it should have been,” she said. “I still remember pouring benzene down the drains.”
She also had her sights set on a medical career. As a pre-med student at Wayne State University, she attended a seminar by Kurt Frisch, who spoke about polyurethanes and said that 90 percent of the people in chemistry who go into industry work on some sort of plastic.
“That just turned my head totally,” Ryntz said. “I said, ‘Pre-med, yeah, I kind of like it, but chemistry, it sounds really intriguing, and particularly plastics.'”
Now vice president for advanced global development at auto parts giant International Automotive Components Group, Ryntz's career has included stints at Dow Chemical Co., Ford Motor Co., Akzo Nobel NV and Visteon Corp. In addition to her bachelor's degree from Wayne State, Ryntz, 57, earned a Ph.D. from University of Detroit Mercy and an MBA from Michigan State University.
She considers networking one of the most important pursuits in her career, and advises others of the same.
“It started, I think, in grad school when one of my thesis advisors said that it's better to spend five minutes on the phone than five weeks in the lab trying to get a solution to a problem,” Ryntz said. “So through networking, the greatest advantage is saving the time when you can reach out to others and ask them about a particular issue that you have, if they have potential solutions. So from a technical side, but also from a saneness side… it really helps if you have an issue at work to talk to them about how they would handle something like that as well.”
Ryntz called on her network recently when working with a material that had a whitening issue on the surface after it was exposed to heat. A contact who had worked with the material in a different application decades ago pointed her in the right direction and the team was able to resolve the issue within a day.
A current challenge is finding the best way to communicate with diverse cultures throughout the company's global reach.
“From a communications standpoint, things that we do in the United States aren't always perceived the same way as in the U.S.,” she said. “I'm a very driven, passionate, impatient person, and sometimes that doesn't go across very well when you look at other parts of the world. … It's imperative to understand those differences in trying to get things done.”
Ryntz said that today, she sees an opportunity to take a different viewpoint on design and leadership in the automotive industry.
“It's hard to put into words, but I do see a difference in the way women look at design, even in my own group,” with women in general looking more toward comfort and convenience over horsepower and clean lines, Ryntz said. “It's somewhat different, and getting the blend of both women and men involved in that development certainly makes for, I think, the best of all worlds.”
Looking toward the future, Ryntz is intrigued by the “clean sheet of opportunities” offered by the development of autonomous vehicles.
“When you think of autonomous vehicles, although we don't know for sure what they are going to be or not be, the first assumption one makes is that you don't necessarily need a steering wheel” or an odometer, most of those gauges, even the instrument panel, she said. “It really is a clean sheet of paper not only from a design perspective but also from the way in which we can use materials to get there.”