Mary Bournias manages electronics design at Nissan
A longtime interest in electronics has led her to a leadership position in the automotive world. She’s working to bring more women into the industry
Long term, Mary Bournias wants to be a vice president. Short term, she aspires to be a director in R&D, increase her presence as a female automotive management leader, and earn her way up the corporate ladder.
Bournias is senior manager of electronics design at Nissan North America’s technical center in Farmington Hills, MI. She’s responsible for most of the electrical parts in the vehicle’s interior, including body electronics and clusters, switches, body control, airbag modules, seat memory, and the sonar systems that provide backup vision and signal when a driver is close to an obstacle.
“The body control modules control the lights, door locks and IT functions like the remote control on the key,” explains Bournias. “We are also responsible for the airbag control unit which is the heart of the airbag system. Clusters include the IT associated with the speedometer, odometer, and everything that the driver sees right in front of them.”
Her team includes three managers who report to her directly. Two are design engineers and one is an electrical engineer. The entire group consists of just over three dozen people.
She leads electrical system planning and studies, design review activities within electrical and audio/ITS functions, the design competitiveness team, and the quality management team.
Raised with electronics and a good example
Bournias has always lived in Detroit, and has always been interested in engineering and electronics. “My dad was a mechanical engineer, and in grade school, I worked hand-in-hand with him on a lot of different projects. He also worked on antique cars,” she says.
“My parents were both committed to their careers and their jobs. They showed me that dedication and hard work were the keys to a successful career. Today, I mentor high school girls. Some of them are scared to get into the engineering environment, and I help them get over that. I’m also a member of the Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation (AWAF, Troy, MI) that offers scholarships to female students who want to get into the automotive industry.”
Bournias attended Oakland University (Auburn Hills, MI). “I liked the engineering curriculum and the co-op program. It was the early eighties and I remember being in Fortran classes with my punch cards,” she says with a smile.
She co-oped at public utility Detroit Edison (Detroit, MI). “I worked in the controls department laying out control panels for operators who were running the furnaces and other areas of the plants. It meant my graduation was delayed a year, but I recommend it. Engineering students benefit from experience in a professional environment.”
Choosing a career in automotive
Bournias received her BS in electrical engineering in 1986. Before graduation, she had offers from GM, Ford and Chrysler. “Ford appealed to me because they had a college graduate program that allowed you to rotate through three areas in two years. I worked on audio, electronic engine control modules, and convenience products like clocks and so forth. I chose audio because I liked the work and the responsibility.”
She was at Ford for fourteen years. She worked in Mexico from 1991 to 1995, starting up an engineering facility at a component manufacturing plant. “I learned the culture, traditions and values of my Mexican counterparts,” Bournias says with pleasure. “A foreign service assignment, or even a cross-functional assignment in the U.S., opens up a lot of doors and opportunities for career advancement.”
During her time at Ford, Bournias went back to school and earned a 1997 MS in engineering management from the University of Michigan (Dearborn).
A year or so before she left, Ford transferred its components division to Visteon Corporation, also in Dearborn. “It was kind of a spin-off. At the time, I was in between a quality manager and program manager job.”
By 2002, Bournias and her husband were the parents of two children, one adopted from abroad, and she took some time off. Four years later, she was ready to rejoin the workforce.
“I wasn’t interested in the types of projects Visteon was doing at that point,” she recalls. “They had become a supplier and I wanted to move back into OEM.
“I interviewed with Nissan and saw they were a lean company with lots of opportunity and exposure to senior management. I joined as a systems electronics senior design engineer, doing cross-functional team reviews and quality planning, working on anything that interfaced with electronics in the vehicle. It was work that my team does now,” she notes.
In 2009, she was promoted to electronics manager, heading up body control modules, intelligent key systems, airbag control modules, seat memory systems, and sonar systems. In 2011, she was promoted to senior manager.
Bournias actively supports the presence of women in engineering. In addition to AWAF, she recently participated in a pilot program for the southeast Michigan chapter of Inforum Group (Detroit), a nonprofit that promotes leadership careers for women.
“We were a diverse group of females from different industries who went through training sessions addressing how to increase your leadership presence within your organization,” she explains. “Now that we’ve shared experiences, we hope to maintain our rapport and keep in touch.”
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