Nancy Gioia - Pioneer of Ford Motor's Thunderbird Program
When Nancy Gioia was handed the reins of the 2002 Ford Thunderbird Program – one of the company’s most eagerly anticipated launches in decades
by Emily Foley
– she knew just where to turn for inspiration. “My uncle Harry told me that the essence of Thunderbird was freedom. When he got in his T-Bird, it was like putting on a tuxedo. He could go anywhere,” Gioia recalls. “Creating a car that can transform you like that is what it’s all about.”
Under Gioia’s supervision, the Thunderbird has received many critical accolades, including being voted Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year for a record-breaking fourth time. Now the Engineering Director for Small FWD and RWD vehicles, Gioia shoulders the responsibility of Ford Mustang, Focus and Freestar as well as Mercury Monterey.
“Customers feel a strong emotional connection with each of these vehicles,” Gioia says. That’s what gets me excited about coming to work every day.”
Before working on the Thunderbird program, Gioia was the chief nameplate engineer for Heavy Truck. “It wasn’t that drastic a switch for me, because I found similarities within the two programs,” she says. “In each case, customers were very passionate about the products, and had very high expectations. We also found that because both were niche products, we were using similar approaches to forging relationships between our manufacturing teams and our supply base.”
Gioia earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in manufacturing systems from Stanford University. She joined Ford Motor Company 20 years ago, working as a Ford College Graduate in the Electronics Division’s audio group.
Gioia considers herself more of a humanitarian than a math and science whiz. “I view my career in a holistic light,” she says. Gioia models her management style on one of her role models: Ford North America Group Vice President, Jim Padilla. “I try to be approachable and human and make sure each team member contributes to fueling the energy.”
Beyond being a “pony” engineer at work, Nancy Gioia is an avid equestrienne who spends a lot of her free time at the barn and none in the garage, except when getting into her own Thunderbird. “I fell in love with the car after a couple of months and after five years, that passion hasn’t waned,” she says. “When I picked it up from the dealer, he said he hadn’t ever seen as a smile as big as mine.”