As the resin commodity manager for General Motors Co., Rae Howard handles complex negotiations with plastic parts suppliers around the globe to get buy-in on GM's managed resin programs.
But when Howard, a chemical engineer by education, is asked for the best advice she's ever received, she doesn't mention well-chosen words from a personal mentor or a line from a book on how to negotiate across different cultures.
Instead, she leans on Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss.
"Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you."
The answer seems to fit. She described breaking the gender barrier in her job at GM as the first of her achievements.
Beyond that, though, the others were more personal: organizing a children's story time and book giveaway at the local library and coaching her children's elementary school robotics team to a second place at the VEX IQ Robotics World Championships in April.
Geisel's advice helps her stay focused: "It's difficult to succeed unless you stay true to yourself," she said.
"In the world of manufacturing, there is a significant level of men in the traditional roles," she said. "As a woman, I'm not going to have the same style."
Howard has been the resin commodity manager at GM since June 2015, and before that held positions in GM as a buyer and commodity manager for paints, where she oversaw global sourcing strategies and engineered $47 million in cost savings.
In her current job — her first in plastics — she oversees a team of five in Michigan, along with plastics buyers in China, Europe, India, South America and South Korea.
In some cases, the plastics processors supplying GM may have more market leverage than GM when it comes to specific components.
"I wanted a challenge and an opportunity to impact resin purchasing with resin processors," she said. "I was very excited to take on a new challenge."
Howard said the resin manager position has helped her understand the complexities of the plastics industry, from recycling to implementing new technology.
It gives her a different perspective on the industry than someone working for an injection molding company or resin supplier. She sees a lot of opportunities for plastics.
"I am surprised by the new opportunities for plastics usage on vehicle parts previously made of metal, wood and other natural materials," she said. "Also, I am surprised by the depth of sustainability projects."
She said she's interested in metal replacement with high-temperate materials like nylon, polyphthalamide and polyphenylene sulfide, and she is working to expand GM's resin program to new materials.
"These replacements require an enormous amount of research and testing in order to use in vehicle manufacturing," she said.
Expanding plastics within the auto industry is a professional focus: "I want to be the leader of a high-performing team that implements new resin technology."