WinA Member of the Month
This month, we are featuring Natalie Ajay.
In her Q&A, she talks about her experience racing with the Monash Motorsport team, both in Australia and abroad.
Know of someone you would like to see featured as our next Women in Automotive Member of the Month, or interested in sharing your own automotive story? Get in touch below and let us know.
Tell us a bit about your current role or involvement in the automotive industry.
I began my automotive career at around 20 years old when I joined GM Holden in their Cooperative Program for university students. I was studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the time and worked at Holden full-time for a year before they extended my employment. I made many lifelong friends and learned quickly. My first roles were in local manufacturing forecasting, distribution, and dealer relations.
After two years with Holden, I joined BMW Group Australia as their Retail Marketing Coordinator and was later promoted to Integrated Marketing Coordinator. I had three fantastic years with BMW. I'm a huge Beemer enthusiast, so every day was a great day in that office.
I took a hiatus from automotive between 2014 and 2022 with my career moving into wine, tourism, and higher education. I am also now a Non-Executive Board Director for Alpine Resorts Victoria (a state government statutory authority) and Murray Regional Tourism. In early 2023, I jumped back into the auto industry as a Brand Manager for Motorsport Safety and Rescue, where I help design and implement events, launches, media, PR and more on behalf of dozens of major OEMs in Australia. I now have the pleasure of working with a broad range of automotive brands, delivering memorable events and experiences all around the country.
What was your first professional experience within the automotive industry?
My first automotive job was at GM Holden, and I loved every moment of it. Working for a company that manufactured vehicles in Australia was a unique experience and I loved how passionate everyone was about the cars that we made. We were all part of the story. I've kept in touch with many of my colleagues from that time and I feel fortunate to continue to draw on the learnings and mentoring I received in my formative years there.
Do you think you have experienced challenges within the industry that your male counterparts have not?
I think so. It's funny what you don't recognise when you're a young career-starter, but when you reflect you see things with wisdom and hindsight. I witnessed this often when it came time for promotions, selecting people for new roles, and saw many women disadvantaged for starting families. I do hope things have moved forward since my early years in the industry.
What is your biggest achievement within the automotive industry, personal or professional?
I have plenty of highlights, but I think for me it was my time at university while both working for Holden and racing with the Monash Motorsport Team. Part of the global "formula student" competition, Monash Motorsport is a university-based racing team that design, build and race with a formula-style car, both in Australia and overseas. I had the pleasure and privilege of competing with the team in Germany and the UK, as well as on home turf. The thrill and reward of motorsport is unlike anything else. I'm still close friends with lots of my university peers, many of whom are in automotive and engineering roles around the world. I never take for granted the joy of connecting my passions of cars and motorsport with my career.
Do you have a favourite resource as a woman working in the automotive industry? Maybe a book, event, organization, mentor, or online platform?
As a Board Director (or for any woman in the industry aspiring to leadership or already working in the c-suite), I have found the Australian Institute of Company Directors to be my most valuable source of leadership and governance information. As a graduate of their flagship program, I'm up to speed on the latest and most relevant governance and executive management learnings, and I am connected with a broad network of inspirational leaders from a range of industries.
I regularly seek out advice and feedback from mentors, peers, and colleagues to ensure I'm always learning and growing. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new or get 1% better at something. I think most people in our industry really appreciate an optimistic attitude towards learning and development.
Who is your inspiration as a female in automotive?
The people who inspire me are some of the bosses and leaders I've had during my years in the industry. I have been fortunate to have leaders, both men and women, who were great mentors and teachers. As someone who manages people in more senior positions now, I reflect often on how those previous bosses in my career have shaped my leadership style today. I'd be lying if I said every one of my managers were outstanding but, for the most part, I was able to learn and grow with the mentorship of many brilliant industry peers.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received or that you could give to another woman working in the automotive industry?
Don't be afraid to ask questions so you can do your best work. Treat every job, engagement, issue, or problem as an opportunity to learn and to grow. I've learned that asking a question and seeking clarification shows that you care and you're interested in doing your job well. No one knows everything in their first day, month, or year of their role, so be kind to yourself and find the information that will help you mature into your role. Making mistakes or revising your approach is a valuable opportunity too, as cringe as it can feel at the time. We've all been there - use the experience to your advantage.