Vice President/General Manager: GKN Aerospace
Susan Barnes graduated from Loughborough University in 1999 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Susan is passionate about the aviation and aerospace industry and enjoys working in strategic projects.
I chose to study Mechanical Engineering as I loved solving problems and science and math were my strongest subjects at school. I have an analytical mind and engineering seemed a great opportunity to use my strengths. Plus there were lots of job opportunities for engineers – more than many other disciplines. Also I strongly remember having a conversation with a career advisor at 16 years old where I explained I was thinking of an engineering degree and she told me that it was too male dominated and I should think about something like Meteorology instead– well I guess that was like giving me a challenge and I thought I would set out to show a female could be successful. There is a stubborn streak in me which likes to prove I can do things if there is a suggestion I can’t!
The choice to study at Loughborough was a very easy decision after I attended an overnight visit to the campus arranged by the Engineering school. The campus was amazing, the facilities were great but more importantly the current students were welcoming, enthusiastic and friendly and the faculty staff were passionate, knowledgeable and keen to engage. It was easy to see myself being a part of the university and it felt like home before I had even joined!
Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study the same course that you did?
Be prepared and persist – it is not an easy course and you will have more hours than many of the other courses, but it is a great course with many career options and prepares you well for life after university.
Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities during your studies? If so, how did this impact upon your Loughborough experience?
I was elected to the Falk-Egg Hall Committee as Secretary which meant I helped to plan events for RAG fund raising and social events. It was a great way to get to know more people and was great experience for my CV and job interviews to show project management, communication and team work skills outside of my engineering degree.
I missed the campus and the 9am start to the day! However I had an industrial placement in my third year working for General Motors at the Vauxhall plant in Luton which was a great experience and helped to prepare me for life after Loughborough. I quickly found out that although I did not use all of my engineering knowledge that I had learnt at Loughborough, I could apply the approaches to learning new things and the soft skills were critical; like team work and communication.
GKN Aerospace is the world’s leading multi-technology tier 1 aerospace supplier. GKN Aerospace develops, builds and supplies an extensive range of advanced aerospace systems, components and technologies– for use in aircraft ranging from helicopters and business jets to the most used single aisle aircraft and the largest passenger planes in the world. GKN Aerospace operates in 14 countries at 52 manufacturing locations employing approximately 17,000 people.
I joined GKN as a part of their international leadership development program straight after graduating and have had an amazing career with GKN. I have had the opportunity to work in three languages (four if you count American as different from English!) and in three countries. There has always been a next challenge to take on and I have had the opportunity to work in many functions including: supply chain, operations, quality, continuous improvement, program management and executive leadership. My role today is about taking our strategic projects from a concept to a plan to fully implemented. My team starts up new facilities, undertakes major work transfers and are a key part of the strategic planning while thinking about what our industrial footprint looks like 5-to-10 years from now.
The best thing about my role is that there are different challenges every day to solve and never a chance to be bored! I get to work with great people, help to develop talent in the organization and get to think strategically about our long term. The leadership team I work with and my project team have a great mix of people, who often think differently from me but are passionate about driving forwards and help challenge me to be better. I get to use my engineering skills and also am challenged to continually grow and develop.
I want to be a great leader, someone who can make an impact, can help others make an impact and continue to be challenged by my role every day.
The aviation and aerospace industry is a great industry – the market is continuing to grow and the challenge is always there to make flying greener and more economical. That means we need engineers who can think outside of the box, solve problems and be a part of a team to make great things happen. There are so many career options within the aviation and aerospace world from pure engineering roles to operations and all the support functions. But the best thing is that we get to work on fantastic products, implement amazing cutting edge technology and can see your products helping enable people to travel and make the world a safer place.
About 6 years after graduating from Loughborough University, I started a part time Executive Master’s degree in International Business at Saint Louis University (as I was living in the US at this point). Gaining a business degree after a few years in industry was extremely beneficial for my career and something I would recommend for people interested in leadership. The business aspects greatly augmented my technical engineering degree and helped me progress in leadership roles and enabled me to be financially savvy. By returning to University after gaining experience in industry, it helped to connect the dots on the business concepts and relate them to the real world.