Alumna partners with women pioneers for international change
There are 10,500 miles between Menlo Park, Calif., and Roodepoort, South Africa. Yet, the distance is easily spanned by the mentor-mentee relationship of Kathi Kelly Lutton ’90 and Susan Rammekwa. Lutton is a principal at Fish & Richardson, combining her undergraduate and graduate education in electrical engineering and early work in systems and software design engineering at GE with high-tech patent litigation. She covers technologies such as semiconductor technology, telecommunications, circuits and systems, computer technology, software and Internet applications.
Invited to attend Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Conference, Lutton joined the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership three years ago. The program pairs emerging women leaders from around the globe with women leaders in the United States for a month-long internship. “I was intrigued by the program and the idea of giving back,” Lutton says. “It’s powerful to align these women from other countries with a network of women who all want to help each other.”
Lutton’s first mentee, Rammekwa, founded and runs the Tshepang Programme for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children in South Africa. The orphanage provides food, access to education and daily care for more than 200 children from 3 to 17 who have lost their parents to AIDS or other illnesses.
In May 2009, Rammekwa came to California for the better part of a month, and Lutton kicked her network into high gear. She brought Rammekwa and women from the Bay Area together to brainstorm ideas for the business. “She wanted to become self-sustainable, so we came up with ideas, and well known venture capitalists were able to point out the viable options,” Lutton says.
“I’m a lawyer, so I can certainly help with leadership and running an organization effectively,” she says. “But I can also connect them to a network — with different backgrounds, experiences, thoughts — and that’s a lot more powerful.”
The relationship has stayed strong over the past two years, and in June 2010 Lutton traveled to South Africa with Pattie Sellers, editor at large at Fortune and renowned photographer Asa Mathat to deliver Rammekwa and her kids a new bus that was purchased through fundraising efforts. Lutton calls the experience “incredible.”
“They live in a shanty town in single-room structures with no heat. They’re staying with friends, and some barely have a bed to sleep on. But they’re focused on the moment, singing, smiling and enjoying life. It was so beautiful to see the positive energy.”
“The enthusiasm that Kathi brings to this project is something we are seeing more of within the student body,” says Peter J. Partell, MA ’97, PhD ’99, associate dean of academic affairs and administration. “From Engineers Without Borders and the Society of Hispanic Engineers, to student projects, Watson School students are global citizens making a difference.”
The all-new, all-American made engineer’s dream
After 16 years with Ford Motor Company, Jerry Lavine ’91 decided to shift gears by joining Next Autoworks, a startup car company that has yet to release its first car. Details of the new vehicle are coming soon, and Lavine is excited for what’s to come.
At Ford, he gained experience and responsibility working on various car lines, including Taurus (his first program), Fusion, Thunderbird, Mercury Milan and others
Lavine was project manager for the Thunderbird program, working with people in engineering, design, marketing and public affairs to manage the business of launching and delivering the product. With the Fusion, he led the body engineering team, working from feasibility to launch. It was his favorite project, he says, because it was a “cleansheet” design — all new.
“When you’re inside, you see cars differently,” he says.
Which is why he joined Next Autoworks. “I have the ability to start from scratch and help create a new car company,” Lavine says. “That’s what drove me to say, ‘I have 16 years at Ford, but I’m going to walk away.’ Can it be done, and can I be part of it?”
Lavine believes it can. As the vice president of engineering, he leads the entire engineering team. The company is small but boasts considerable experience, with employees averaging 20 to 25 years in the auto industry.
“We have a diverse team of people from every major car company on the road, so we’re able to leverage the expertise and learn from Honda, Toyota, Chrysler and Nissan.”
Lavine is excited to be promoting American manufacturing. Next Autoworks has purchased a former GM plant and hopes to employ 1,400 employees in Louisiana. “As an engineer, I never wanted to be a part of getting rid of jobs and people, but I did it for a year an a half, and it’s a very sobering experience. To say that I’m part of doing just the opposite is more important than anything else.”
Little has been released about the mystery car. But Lavine is confident that people are going to like what they see. “The shocker is going to be how we deliver such great safety, such great fuel economy and so much content at such a great price — and manufacture and engineer it here in the United States.”
“How many opportunities will you have in your life to start a new car company and actually build a car for mass America?” he says. “To create a new plant, a new work force, a new brand, a new car from a clean sheet of paper is an engineer’s dream. And, we’re going to do it.”