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Joe Hinrichs '89

Engineering leadership

9:59 AM  Mar 10th, 2014
by Shannon Shelton Miller

Joe Hinrichs ’89 earned an MBA from Harvard, studied leadership and rose quickly through the executive ranks at General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

But Hinrichs, now executive vice president and president of The Americas, Ford Motor Company, says his path to leadership started with a choice some might have considered unconventional for a future senior executive. When he enrolled at UD in the mid-1980s, he decided to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.

“I thought it would be very important to understand the methodology and critical thinking behind problem solving,” Hinrichs said.

Hinrichs shared lessons learned from his experience in the School of Engineering and UD to a packed Kennedy Union ballroom audience Feb. 28. Faculty, staff and current students attended Hinrichs’ lunchtime talk, but his words were directed mostly to the prospective UD students in attendance visiting campus that afternoon for an admission presentation.

Hinrichs, a Columbus, Ohio, native, talked about his experience at UD, from meeting his future wife, Maria, as a first-year student, to the appreciation for community and service that shaped the values he holds today. In addition to serving as chair for local and statewide campaigns for the March of Dimes, Arthritis Foundation, Boy Scouts of America and juvenile diabetes research, he’s a member of the University board of trustees.

“Making a difference in the world, that’s one of the things we value at the University of Dayton,” he said. “I always want to give back to the University because of all of the opportunities I’ve been given in life.”

After graduation, Hinrichs got his first test of leadership when he was hired as an engineer at a Delco chassis plant near Moraine, Ohio. “I came to work wearing a white shirt and tie,” he said. “At 23, I was the boss of people two, or even three times, my age.”

The longtime employees were reluctant to see him as someone they could trust. Hinrichs said he decided to take the tie off and “get a shirt with my name on it.” It was the first step in his problem-solving process, and he started asking workers what they needed and how he could help provide it.

“Listen to their issues and remove obstacles,” Hinrichs said of the lessons learned studying engineering. “Be the kind of person you want to work with.”

At 29, Hinrichs became GM’s youngest plant manager. He joined Ford as a plant manager in 2000, and then began a career that put him in charge of Ford units in Canada, the Asia Pacific region and Africa. And, when Ford stock dropped to $1.59 a share in February 2009 and threatened the company’s survival, he used the confidence he’d gained from problem solving at the plant level to work toward a solution.

“Be grounded in core values,” he said. “Work together and figure things out.”

Whether at Ford or UD, it’s a lesson for all who hope to lead and serve.

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