Opening Doors: Wharton EMBA Alumna Finds Success in Auto Industry

When Vicki Poponi was considering executive MBA programs, her primary goal was moving out of her operations position in a paper manufacturing plant – where her daily attire was jeans and steel-tip boots — and into a business management role.  However, the chemical engineer knew that making this type of move would require an MBA from a top school so she applied to Wharton’s MBA for Executives Program.

“I had seen a bunch of people in manufacturing get MBAs, yet still couldn’t make that transition into the corporate side of the business.  But with Wharton’s reputation, I knew that my education would really open up doors for me – and it did many times,” she says.

After receiving approval from her employer to participate in career search opportunities, the first door opened toward the end of her time in Wharton’s EMBA program when she was going through the resume review process.  A classmate who worked at AlliedSignal saw her resume and thought she might be a good candidate for a management position there.  It turned out that she was a good fit and was hired after graduation in 1998 as director of worldwide operations for AlliedSignal’s Garrett Turbocharging business.

Once at AlliedSignal, she quickly moved into the position of director of acquisition integration thermal systems as well as general manager of thermal systems and vice president of strategic growth for the Garrett Turbocharging business. “Not only did I go from a local job to a global one, but I gained instant credibility. When people saw that I went to Wharton, I stood out and they viewed me as smart and capable.  Getting out of the paper plant would have been a lot harder and taken a lot more time without my Wharton degree and the connections I made in school,” says Poponi.

In 2005, her Wharton MBA helped open yet another door when she was hired by American Honda Motor Co., Inc. as senior manager of product planning in Torrance, CA.  She explains, “Honda took a risk on me because most people at Honda start right after college and never leave.  There is very little turnover and it’s rare for them hire from the outside for senior management.  But I think they recognized that I have a skill set that is transferable – my toolbox was extended because of my Wharton education and the tools I gained at Wharton can fit anywhere.”

Since then, her position has been expanded to assistant vice president of product planning with additional responsibilities for strategic planning, market research, and quality assurance.  Given her success at Honda, it’s not surprising that Poponi recently was selected as one of the top 100 leading women in the North American auto industry by Automotive News.

Poponi says that in addition to her ability to move across functions and up the corporate ladder, her MBA degree also has greatly increased her confidence. “Just knowing that I was able to get admitted and then succeed in such a rigorous program with all of the challenges that come with having a full-time job and family helped me realize that I can accomplish anything.”