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From Refugee to One of Ford’s First Female Engineers

Damyanti Gupta

(FordIT) –  Over 300 people attended the FAIA event to meet Damyanti Rani Gupta, a woman who broke multiple barriers inside and outside of Ford.

  1. What inspired you to work for Ford?
    When I was 13, I heard the prime minister of India was coming to visit my city, so I was very excited. I went early and sat on the floor by the podium. That day changed my life. He said, “India has no industry. I’m talking to you little children, especially girls.” It was the first time I heard the word engineer. At 19, I cam across a book about Henry Ford about how he was able to deliver a car to an average person, I started dreaming about working for that company. After I finished engineering college, my parents had collected money, but it still wasn’t enough for me to come to the USA to study. I decided to get a job in Germany. My parents gave me all of their lifetime savings for me to fulfill my dream. That was unheard of in those days.
  2. What was the most challenging hurdle you overcame in your professional career?
    I went for an interview with Ford. He looked at my resume and asked, “are you applying for an engineering job? We have no females here.” I said, “I’m here and unless you hire me, you’ll never have any.” He sent me for an interview. My boss was impressed. He couldn’t pronounce my name. He said, “If you come up with a nickname, you’ve got yourself a job.” I was quick on my feet and came up with “Rani,” which means queen. I get to be a queen for the rest of my life! When I got the job, I was so happy. I was excited to prove myself to them. I weighed 104 pounds. They thought I looked young. A few weeks later, someone asked me, “Mary’s not here. Can you type this for me?” I said, “no, I’m an engineer. Give me something more challenging.”

    A few years later when computers came along, I was all alone printing a big report. An engineer came over and said, “all those numbers are wrong.” I said, “I said, “I want to have bet with you: For every right answer, you give me a penny and for ever wrong one, I give you a dollar.” The engineer decided the bet was off.

    I came from the other side of the world; I looked different. I had an accent. I think  hard work and confidence can take you far. People will come and challenge you, especially in my case when I came from India. That person told me all the numbers are wrong, but once you show your confidence in your work, people understand that you mean business. Never let anyone make you feel any less.”

  3. What has inspired you to pursue your dreams, even throughout the most challenging times in your life?
    In 1947, India got independence from Britain. My parents were in the part that became Pakistan. They had to leave everything and flee to Karachi in Pakistan. They floated from Karachi to Mumbai for days. When we reached, they couldn’t communicate. The people there spoke different languages in comparison to my parents. My parents struggled to do odd jobs to feed the family. I never saw them unhappy or depressed. They thought on should accept things they have no control over. Other things I learned from them is that bad things happen for a good reason, but I could not understand that at the time. If partition hadn’t happened, I would not have realized my full potential.

    My mother was very brave. Both parents were brave. They said, “we lost everything, but these are materials things and they come and go. You’re going to get something no one can take away – a good education.” From that point on, I started searching for what I wanted to do. In kindergarten, I wrote on language form left to right and two from right to left. I became a translator for parents and grandparents. They had unconditional love for me. They never made me think anything different. They showed me how to work hard and be focused. Your goal should be crystal clear that no distraction will stop you.

  4. What would you tell young professionals entering the workforce who are faced with challenges?
    There is nothing that one cannot do if you’re focused and work hard. Make sure your goal is crystal clear. Remind yourself every day and night. You are capable of doing amazing things. You will be making your own rules. We have five granddaughters and they’re all amazing. I’ll never dictate what they want to be, as long as they work hard and have passion. We don’t know what kind of research will be done in the future. I’m very proud of all of them. They’re keeping their great grandmothers’ dream alive. Don’t let other people dictate to you. First you find out what you like. There’s nobody on this earth who can’t perform.
  5. What are your plans for the remainder of your retirement?
    When thinking about retiring, I’m looking for hobbies. Retirement is a difficult decision. A lot of people retire without planning, and then they’re disappointed. I found out my husband loves to sing and play instruments. I picked up pretty fast. He’s a very good teacher. We perform duets in front of 50-100 people. To keep the brain sharp, we play a lot of bridge. We enjoy traveling. We’ve taken our children on lots of driving trips since they were young. We would change seating in the car so I would sit sometimes with my older son and sometimes with my younger son. We always have family time and I think that’s so important.
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