What Porsche’s Forewoman Knows About Drive
It is four o’clock in the morning, and Jana Igel has just woken up for the fourth time. She does not need to set an alarm; she has her own body clock. For many years, she used to awake at that time to drive to work in Zuffenhausen in Stuttgart, Germany. But on this morning, the 31-year-old is sitting in her living room holding her infant son as she waits for him to fall asleep again.
Jana’s new life as a mother is a stark contrast to her professional life as forewoman at the assembly line for interior fittings at Porsche. It is a role that fills her with immense pride, especially since she was handpicked for this position at the tender age of 29.
“It was like winning the jackpot,” Jana said of her role. But was it just luck? To assume that would be undermining her fierce discipline and ambition.
Raised on responsibility
Jana is a fighter, a woman who grits her teeth and breaks through the roadblocks in her path. When she arrived in Baden-Württemberg from Siberia with her family in 1995, she did not speak a word of German. The sense of isolation, even at her multicultural language school, pushed the then 12-year-old Jana to relentlessly practise her vocabulary as a means of finding her place in society.
“Nothing comes from nothing,” Jana said. “My parents brought me up to take on responsibility.”
This drive would later surface in her professional life when her excellent performance fast tracked her apprenticeship as an interior vehicle fitter at Porsche. Her instructor’s prediction that she would go far rang true when Jana achieved a perfect score during her final examination at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Putting pedal to the metal
Jana was initially assigned to the assembly line but within six months, she applied to the upholstery shop, saying that she “wanted to see more and understand what is inside a car like this.”
Determined to keep moving forward, she then enrolled in a technical management course. This meant shift work, evening school three times a week and Saturday classes. She did not take a vacation for three years. And when she did take a break, it was on her motorbike rather than on the couch.
It was not long before Jana was approached with an opportunity to take on more responsibility at Porsche when a colleague encouraged her to apply for the position of forewoman.
“At first I didn’t want to,” Jana admitted. “I had the greatest respect for this job.” It took her six months before she changed her mind. One application and two interviews later she had the job and a new set of challenges, the first of which was being a gender minority in the workplace.
Rose among the thorns
Of the 36 employees in her section, 34 are men. Jana knew that as a young woman in a male domain, she would have to work extra hard to prove herself. And that meant being capable of more than just changing a wheel, a doubt that she has had to allay many times over.
Yet Jana has remained unruffled and opts for dialogue over a demonstration of power. She talks to every individual about his or her expectations and goals, and includes all employees in her decision making process.
“Every person is different and must therefore be treated differently,” she stated. “The only way is to be empathetic. A forewoman is only as good as her team.”
Her pride in her role and work also makes her extremely meticulous. Any scratch on or in the car is an embarrassment, and runs contrary to her philosophy of doing her duties perfectly or not at all.
Striking that work-life balance
Even as she revels in the joy of motherhood, Jana admitted to missing her work and more so, her team. She will return to Porsche in the beginning of 2016 and is convinced that she will be able to reconcile work and family life.
“It is all just a question of organisation,” she said. Jana has no fear of the double burden but that is no surprise coming from this master of drive.
You may also like