Susan Brennan is the Chief Operations Officer at Bloom Energy. Susan has more than 24 years of manufacturing experience, including automotive vehicle, powertrain and components assembly, having also worked in executive roles leading manufacturing for Nissan and Ford.
In addition, she has created and supported organizations that encourage young women to pursue careers in math and science as a way to support future generations of technological manufacturing in the United States.
Listen to the full discussion here:
- Listen on Stitcher
Connect with the Guest:
Susan Brennan: LinkedIn
Some of the highlights from the podcast:
- From working with automotive giants to stepping into the startup world
- Bloom’s initiatives in line with Industry 4.0
- How was it is being a female in an executive role in manufacturing
- Grooming female leaders
- Taking calculated risks and taking on tough responsibilities
- [00:45] Let’s start by sharing with us a little bit of how you actually ended up in manufacturing. It’s not often that we have an executive, a female that had such a long-standing career in manufacturing.
- [01:41] I lost my dad when I was five and he was 29, due to a congenital condition. And so I wanted to solve this problem and that’s really what started me on the journey from a technical perspective.
- [02:05] You’ve been with these huge automotive giants, Ford, Nissan, but then you stepped into the startup world, whilst Bloom is a listed company, but when you joined them six years ago, it was still in a startup mode. What made you take this step?
- [03:28] We’re the first company to commercialize the technology of solid oxide fuel cells and we’re a clean energy product that provides distributed power.
- [05:07] The other piece that I found quite interesting is the fact that you decided that the manufacturing is based in the US and only the US, so tell us a little bit about that point.
- [06:37] Tell us a little bit about the challenges that you faced when you have this network of supply chain and manufacturing.
- [08:06] I feel it’s an actual advantage to be able to build a supply chain versus having one that already exists. Innovation speed, all the disruption that comes with that, might be a little bit harder work, but the outcome, I believe is very superior.
- [08:54] I was curious if you can share some of the initiatives that you have done for industry 4.0 from an industry perspective, and maybe some of the benefits and challenges that you’ve got implementing it.
- [10:52] Industry 4.0 really is how Bloom makes the product today.
- [11:30] There are a lot of reassuring and decoupling discussions going on, from a broader perspective of manufacturing in general, how do you see the situation in the next coming years shaping up?
- [14:10] I see manufacturing really as being that catalyst to take the limited resources that we have available on the planet and taking the things that we’ve already made and figuring out how to turn it into something that’s useful.
- [16:48] What type of skill sets are needed to push the industry forward in the next three to five years that maybe today are a little bit lacking?
- [20:16] There’s a constant uphill battle if you’re a female or a woman in manufacturing, how was it for you? I also read stories of you being pregnant and leading large production lines and obviously, that’s not easy. So maybe tell us a little bit about that.
- [21:27] It was really important to send some subtle messages and some not so subtle messages to other women on the production floor to be themselves.
- [23:57] There’s even a concern for women to even voice and say, “Look, I’m a feminist”. So how, what would you respond to that?
- [24:57] I believe that women can be competent and women can succeed in the workplace, in the manufacturing world. And what I like about manufacturing is that you always know where you stand.
- [26:21] I don’t think you should accept abuse but you do have to take the feedback and filter what is real feedback that can help you and make you better and feedback that just goes over your head.
- [26:57] Do you have some pieces of advice where you’ve seen some things work better than others in terms of grooming this female leadership?
- [29:15] Other than leadership, you have to walk the talk. You have to recognize that people are human and it’s a change, and they’re going to be uncomfortable and address that discomfort in a healthy way that they understand.
- [30:40] If you were to go back in time 30 years when you started in manufacturing and change something today. What would you change?
- [31:54] In terms of the younger audience that is listening and that aspires to be an executive or a CEO or a C-level that at some point in their careers, what would be one or two pieces of advice you would give them?
- [33:29] Be the person that the leaders go to when they have really hard problems and take on tough responsibilities.