In her own words: Sara Hanks, Senior Director/Project Management, Wabtec

What or who fueled your interest in manufacturing?

My father was an engineer and inspired me to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. I didn’t get an appreciation for manufacturing until my first internship. I worked at a plant that made air purifying equipment. The process to make the equipment and the final test were more interesting than designing the equipment. When I interviewed at GE Transportation, we were given a shop floor tour. Seeing a locomotive being lifted by a crane ignited my passion for manufacturing.

What is your current role in manufacturing?

Currently, I lead a team of project managers focused on delivering continuous improvement projects. We work with cross functional teams, such as service technicians, manufacturing teams and engineering to define problems and create plans to solve the problems. As a manager, I guide my team on how to identify the root cause of a problem, connect them with people and remove obstacles along the way. In a typical day, we are mapping out a current process to identify issues, updating project sponsors on a status, or testing a software solution. In project management, there is a clearly defined goal, but the journey to get there is always changing. It’s exciting.

Describe your path to get to where you are today.

After graduating from the University at Buffalo, I started working at GE Transportation in their Edison Engineering Development Program – a 2-year leadership training program for engineers. During the program, I realized that my career aligned best with solving problems, so I became a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt for the next few years. Afterwards, I transitioned into manufacturing for several years – as a quality engineer, a supervisor and commercial test leader. For the past 11 years, I’ve worked in various roles of increasing responsibility in digital transformation project management. Digital transformation gets a lot of hype, but I’ve seen significant benefits from transforming our business processes into software and then extracting insights created from the data.

What is your Superpower?

My superpower is delivering productivity and improving cycle time through continuous improvement and leveraging technology.

Why is your role important to others – like to customers or end users?

Delivering quality products on time is the most important thing for manufacturers. Meeting that objective is not easy. My role focuses on making it easier to deliver products and services to our customer by reducing the challenges incurred in the process.

What do you think the future holds for your career or others you inspire?

In a large company, there are many options to grow one’s career. Growth does not need to be a promotion; a move into a new function provides exciting new challenges. Having worked in project management for a long time, my next role will likely be back in operations. In an operations role, I can leverage my creativity and problem-solving skills, while developing new skills to drive results. My long-term goal is to grow my startup into a profitable company and create good jobs locally.

Sara Hanks, Wabtec