Six months ago, Jerome Beck, his wife and three children moved to Brazil, where Beck is General Motors’ director of powertrain manufacturing for South America. Beck received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from WMU in 2000, and a master of science in engineering degree from Purdue in 2006. Read on about his career path, cultural adjustments and fond remembrances of WMU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What has your career path been like since graduating from WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences? Have there been any surprises along the way?
I would say that my career path has not been like most. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for the same company for all of the 16 years since I graduated from WMU. I started out as a manufacturing engineer in a General Motors Powertrain metal castings plant here in Michigan. During my career with GM, I’ve held numerous positions in manufacturing, maintenance and engineering that have given me experience in multiple facilities within Michigan and Ohio. Within the past year, I accepted an executive position leading Powertrain Manufacturing for South America, in Brazil. My family and I will be here for the next two to three years.
The advantage of working for a single, global company is that I’ve been able to forge a career path that follows my areas of interest, while also developing leadership skills and numerous professional relationships. Those relationships are with colleagues who have a wide variety of professional expertise and have directly impacted my professional growth.
Tell us a little about life in Brazil and whether there have been any big adjustments.
We are currently completing our first six months of living abroad. Personally, this has been a life-changing experience for my wife, our three children and me. We are extremely thankful for the opportunity to fully experience day-to-day life in such a beautiful country, with a culture that is so different from our own. There are challenges to settling into a new country and learning a new language, but we have also met and formed friendships with so many wonderful people already. Our children are in a bilingual school and unlike many international schools, about 85 percent of their classmates are Brazilian nationals. We appreciate that this opportunity is offering our children a real immersion experience within the culture. This is an unexpected benefit my job has provided for our family.
I also feel that working in this country offers a tremendous opportunity for professional growth. Economically and governmentally, this is a difficult time for Brazil. The challenges we encounter on a regular basis are helping to push me out of my comfort zone, technically and culturally.
Did you have any specific preparation or training for an international assignment?
My family and I received cultural training (including our children) in the U.S. prior to our departure. We have all participated in at least two-three hours of Portuguese lessons a week for the past six months and will continue through the end of the year. There was also a lot of preparation needed to leave our U.S. home, sell cars, update medical verifications, and pack all of the necessities for a family of five. A lot of documentation was required for me to obtain a work visa and this process began several months prior to our departure.
What brought you to WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences?
When I came to WMU, I had not decided on a major. Throughout high school, I was very interested in physics and spent my free time working on cars and small engines. I had a great advisor, Dr. Richard Hathaway, who encouraged me to apply those interests to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. I still find enjoyment in the work I do every day.
Describe your favorite Bronco moment.
I have many great memories and life-long friendships from my time at Western, but without a doubt, my favorite Bronco moment was meeting my wife, Heather, while we both lived in Fox Hall during our freshman year. We’ve been married now for almost 16 years. I also have fond memories of time spent under the tutelage of Dr. Koorosh Naghshineh, and of course, as I mentioned earlier, Dr. Hathaway.
Anything else we should know?
I’ve been able to use my mechanical engineering background to tackle complex technical challenges within Powertrain design and manufacturing. Outside of the technical aspects of engineering, the other skills I learned at WMU: critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and teamwork have been essential to my success within a global corporation.
Here’s a quote I like from Mary Barra, CEO of GM. It’s a philosophy I’ve embraced: She said, “Early in my career, I learned that when presented with a new opportunity – start with yes. Even if there are aspects of the position that aren’t familiar, it’s an excellent chance to develop and learn.”