WinA Member of the Month
Frances Palmer’s journey through automotive engineering is perhaps one of the most interesting stories we have come across yet. Whether discussing her start as an industrial engineer for automotive safety products, her move to the agricultural industry where she championed the design of farm machinery, engineering for the likes of Nissan, or her current move to the world of Brand Management at Bapcor, Frances isn’t short on experience or expertise as a phenomenal woman in automotive. A story sure to inspire anyone considering a path in automotive, we are proud to feature Frances as our January WinA Member of the Month.
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Tell us a bit about your current role or involvement in the automotive industry.
Frances: My current role is Group Manager of Brand Management at Bapcor. I’ve been in this role for roughly 8 months, having started in May 2020 after returning from maternity leave for my third child. So far, I have absolutely loved the role. My work requires collaboration across the various Bapcor trade, retail, and wholesale business units which offers wide variety in my day-to-day tasks.
What was your first professional experience within the automotive industry?
I have been in the industry since I was 19. My first role was during my degree (a Bachelor of Engineering (Product Design)), where I was working for the global company Autoliv as a student industrial engineer. In that role I was charged with optimizing the systems and processes for a portion of the airbag production lines, which served as a fantastic introduction to the automotive industry. I was there for about 4 years before I graduated and was offered a position within the FMCG industry as a design engineer. From there I moved into the agricultural industry as a Design Engineer for Silvan Australia, later becoming Team Leader. Designing farm machinery grew my engineering and design skills exponentially, whilst providing valuable insights into customer lead and focused product design, as our products needed to meet a wide variety of customer uses and needs.
Following this role, I moved to the Aftersales department of Nissan Australia as a Senior Engineer, over time moving into roles including Product Planning Manager and Engineering Manager. I was at Nissan for almost 8 years, thoroughly enjoyed my time there, but was ready for the next adventure. Moving away from OE and into the Automotive Aftermarket, I started work at Hella Australia as Head of Product Management. After taking some time for maternity leave, I am now at Bapcor Australia. It has been an enriching role so far and a wonderful company to work for. I work with a diverse and passionate team, for a business that truly lives its values.
Do you think you have experienced challenges within the industry that your male counterparts haven’t?
Yes. In my career there have been occasions where I have often been the only female engineer in the team or in the working environment. Having to work a little harder to prove my level of expertise in these environments, than perhaps my male counterparts had to, was a hurdle I needed to jump. This meant that more time was required to demonstrate this knowledge, but once passed, there were no issues.
Having said that, I have also found being a female engineer in the automotive industry highly beneficial, as being able to offer a different point of view and way of tackling problems has led to some great career opportunities and experiences.
What is your biggest achievement within the automotive industry, personal or professional?
There are a couple of main achievements that come to mind. My determination, willingness to learn and grow in the industry, and my positive mindset have helped me to progress through my career, to my current role at Bapcor. All whilst being a mum to three beautiful boys. My career is important to me, it’s what I love to do, but being a mum, and having that balance, completes that picture.
In addition to this, seeing the products that you’ve designed, worked on, project managed, seeing the value you can add to someone’s life, is greatly rewarding. Each of these projects had that kind of impact in different ways. At Autoliv I was working with airbag production, helping to ensure the quality of the products, and by extension the passengers in the vehicles where they would be installed.. At Silvan I was designing farm machinery, where the functionality and effectiveness of these designs could help determine the success of a farmer’s crops that season. At Nissan, I would often see the products I had worked with on the road, whether it was a roof bar system, or a parking assist product. That’s something that people don’t often realize about working in automotive. A lot of the time, you get to actually see how your work is helping others.
(Left: Frances posing with her design (Silvan's G2 Orchard Sprayer) in a Queensland Country Life article in 2010).
Do you have a favourite resource as a woman working in the automotive industry? Maybe a book, event, organization, mentor, or online platform?
My professional networks are by far my most valuable resource. These relationships provide you with perspective, they challenge you to think differently, and they also help to keep your finger on the pulse of the broader industry.
Who is your inspiration as a female in automotive?
Any female who is passionate about the work she does, who takes that next step, who rises above preconceptions, who is a go-getter. There are a lot of those women out there in this industry and they are the people who inspire me every day.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received, or that you could give to another woman, working in the automotive industry?
When I was very new in my career, a male manager who I had been working with on a contentious project pulled me aside and offered me a simple piece of advice. To use being a female as my strength. He noted I was able to bring a unique point of view to my role that no-one else in the team at the time was able to provide. Don’t try to conform, use your individuality to your advantage, and be proud of it.