Leadership Spotlight: Q&A with Heather Lindell Klish, AxleTech

Heather Lindell Klish is the Vice President of Operations at AxleTech. The company, based in Troy, Michigan, manufactures a range of axles, axle components, brakes, and aftermarket parts for commercial and specialty vehicles.

The BRAKE Report: What is your current role and area of responsibility?

Heather Lindell Klish: I have responsibility for our North American manufacturing facilities, as well as global responsibility for Quality and Material Planning & Logistics. Our facilities manufacture, assemble, and distribute product for our global OE and Aftermarket customers, primarily for heavy-duty off-highway and defense vehicle applications.

You may also like: Inside AxleTech Aftermarket

TBR: How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked so well for you?

HLK: My leadership style is very collaborative, data driven, and results focused. I empower people, listen, and ask questions so I can make the best possible decisions. This has worked well for me because when people see that they are truly valued, they are more likely to get in the boat with you. It is so important to earn trust to execute effectively and efficiently, and also to create and foster a culture of teamwork and innovation.

TBR: What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?

HLK: Our biggest challenge is executing on growth plans while the supply base and US labor is constrained. With the economy as strong as it is, and unemployment so low, it is a challenge to find skilled workers at our facilities. Our suppliers face the same challenge.   

TBR: What do you look for when evaluating and adding top personnel?

HLK: Attitude is everything. I look for personality and willingness to learn to determine if they will be the right fit and I look for leadership. I prize people who enjoy being change agents because leadership like that is critical in a company that is growing and changing.

TBR: What was your first job in the automotive industry?

HLK: I worked as a machinist apprentice at a machine shop after school when I was in high school. I did everything from setting up manual lathes and running CNC machines, to lugging chip hoppers to the dumpster and cleaning the men’s restroom. A couple weeks after I finished high school, I started as a mechanical engineering co-op student for General Motors at the Milford Proving Grounds. Driving cars on test tracks was a lot more fun than cleaning the bathrooms! However, I already had an appreciation of how tough manufacturing could be and I understood the value of learning everything I could from every role I was fortunate to have.

TBR: What is your favorite thing about working in the brake industry?

HLK: At AxleTech, our product offering is so diverse and unique.  It excites me that very few companies offer the breadth of highly-engineered, heavy-duty product that we offer across so many market segments. Having spent the bulk of my career in auto, I am still surprised how different the world of heavy-duty off-highway is from what most of Detroit offers. Because our product is so diverse, each and every day is different and that is my favorite thing about this industry.

TBR: What is the best career advice you have been given?

HLK: The best career advice I received was from people believing in me and telling me I had potential. Never underestimate the influence that positive encouragement can have on someone. You might awaken them to potential they didn’t know they possess, or you might give them the confidence they need to take the next step towards their dreams. 

TBR: Name your favorite / recent book(s) you have read:

HLK: Do the Right Thing: Real Life Stories of Leaders Facing Tough Choices is a book about crucible moments that leaders faced and how those moments molded them into who they are today. I really enjoyed that book because I love hearing real world stories of how people overcame adversity. Often as leaders, you have to make tough decisions with imperfect data and when all is said and done, you might have to simply go with your gut based on experience, principle, and ethics. I also believe that leadership can make or break a company, and I really enjoy reading about effective leadership.

TBR: What is your favorite quote and why?

HLK: There are so many leadership quotes that I love. One I’ve used recently is “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation,” from Charles Kettering.  This wisdom applies personally as well as to a team or a company. 

TBR: How do you see the industry evolving over the next 5-10 years and do you have any bold predictions for us?

HLK: Our industry is certainly being transformed by e-axle technology as the cost of batteries has come down and other technologies have advanced. 

TBR: What are some ways you relax away from the office?

HLK: Relax? What is that? As a mother of three children under 9 years of age, I haven’t done much relaxing in, well, 9 years. My relaxation is simply spending time being a mom.

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The BRAKE Report is an online media platform dedicated to the automotive and commercial vehicle brake segments. Our mission is to provide the global brake community with the latest news & headlines from around the industry.