“I actually get told I share too much,” Veronica Mendez Magaña says. “Which is great, because you get people to share with you.”
Mendez was speaking from Mexico, where she currently serves as operations leader at the sprawling GE site in Querétaro. It’s a simple title that veils the extent of her role, which touches three different business units — Gas Power, Renewable Energy and Digital — and rolls up under Aviation. Mendez acts as a liaison between the groups, overseeing the business-planning process for the whole site. It’s a job that requires many hats, which has enabled Mendez to become something of an expert when it comes to delivering with focus.
It takes patience, Mendez says. But tapping that reservoir of patience has taken time. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, she held numerous roles in the auto industry before ultimately becoming a sales manager for wiring harnesses at an automotive company. Mendez enjoyed the work, but the company’s 20th-century culture didn’t meet the demands of a young mother in the 21st.
GE, it turns out, was willing to be more flexible. In 2014, she signed on as an operations leader in the Services Engineering division of GE Aviation. The variable work schedule allowed her to devote more time to raising her children. Over time, she was given more responsibilities, gaining experience on the government relations team as well as with engineering innovation projects.
She says the mentorship she received at GE, as well as a full embrace of the principles of lean management, helped her evolve from the hard-charging mindset she developed in the automotive industry. Rather than coming to people thinking she already knows the answers, Mendez keeps training herself to listen — with patience, humility and respect — to what others are telling her. “I’m a firm believer that lean helps you really get things done,” she says. “All improvements start with the humility to admit imperfections.”
This came into play during a recent budgeting process. Mendez realized that the site was on track to miss its revenue targets, so she set out on genba walks, a prime technique of lean — walking the shop floor and talking to people about how and why they do what they do. “I sat with the operations team and the engineering managers, I sat with finance and purchasing, with HR,” she says, all with the aim of “understanding what we were doing to try to figure out what we could do differently to produce savings.”
Ultimately, she discovered a flaw in the projected number of billable hours: they’d assumed that it would take only one more hour per person per week to hit their budget. When Mendez subtracted out all the hours that are not devoted to billable work time to get the installed engineering capacity, she found that they came up short. The good news: The team still had time to readjust their planning process to hit their budget. “It was like an aha moment,” she says.
“You learn from your mistakes, from what you did not do well,” she adds. But when it comes to lean, “you have to actually believe in it for it to work.”
Mendez recently took part in a roundtable meeting with John Slattery, CEO of GE Aviation, and came away with a minor epiphany: “GE is moving from being a collection of global sites to a global company.”
In Querétaro, she keeps a positive attitude. It’s something she’s nurtured ever since coming through her heart troubles as a kid. “I try to help people see the silver lining,” she says. “There’s always a silver lining.”