Mandy Garver, ’73, planned to study German and biology when she enrolled at Heidelberg because she wanted to be a research biologist in Germany. She ended up majoring in German, French and English. Then she planned on being a lawyer and attended Case Western Reserve Law School. But in the end, she found herself on an entirely different path.
“I really lucked into a job that plays into my skills,” she said.
She was recruited by a friend to Ford Motor Co., where she started in salary personnel in an engine plant in Cleveland. It was a challenge at first for Garver; women in the auto industry were a new thing in the ‘70s in any capacity other than secretary, especially in a plant setting.
“It makes you stronger. You have to be prepared and you have to respond with confidence,” she said.
That first job led to a 30-year career at Ford, where she had over 12 different jobs, the longest lasting for three years.
“It certainly makes life interesting,” she said. “There were lots of opportunities for me to take initiative.”
She worked in salary personnel, labor relations where she developed a new training program for supervisors and over-hauled employee development, and human resources for different areas including purchasing, marketing, sales and strategic communications.
“I had the ability to impact things more than you would expect at a company that large,” she said. “I had good bosses that let me run with my ideas.”
Those ideas helped her move up the ladder of success and make an impact.
Ford was looking for someone to help develop a collaborative strategy for their human resource offices around the world, and Garver stood up to the plate. She volunteered to move to Thailand, becoming the HR director for manufacturing and purchasing for the Asia Pacific and Africa regions. Both Garver and her husband moved to Thailand for three years.
“We never expected to grow so much so late in our careers,” she said.
In addition to learning a new language, she had to adjust to a new set of cultural norms in the workplace.
“Relationships and saving face were extremely important,” Garver said. “Our more direct style of communication can be considered rude, so we had to find creative ways to get our points across.”
She felt her time at Heidelberg was a key to her success. “There were a lot of things in a liberal arts education that helped me – learning how to get along with people and find consensus in groups, thinking logically, writing skills – everything I did at Heidelberg had an element of synthesizing from a body of facts. I had to bring ideas together,” she said.
“This was valuable to me on the job.”
She has never regretted the course of her career.
“The auto industry was a good fit for me, and Ford was a great fit for me,” she said. “I find it hard to imagine I would have grown in the same ways if I’d gone to a law firm.”
Her advice to younger alums?
“Pick something that you love doing. Forget your to-do lists. Keep work interesting. Learn what you can about the different parts of the company you’re working for.”