Soap Opera: How Ford Engineer Camilla Rice Cleans Up With Her Own Soap Company

Q&A with the Ford engineer who moonlights with her own organic soap business.
Ford Powertrain Program Planning engineer Camilla Rice, in her alter ego as an organic soap purveyor. Image source: Green Olive Soaps

Design News: How did you get  interested in engineering and cars? Were you interested in other kinds of engineering and how did you pick automotive engineering?

Camilla Rice: That goes back to my childhood. I was a very curious child. My mother said that it was difficult to raise me because there was nothing that could stop me from doing something that I was interested in.  So I did a lot of, like, science experiments that some worked out some didn’t and blew up.

I really struggled with wanting to be either an engineer or a doctor. And because I grew up in a very poor background, being a doctor would have cost too much money. So I chose to go on

engineering, and I haven't really regretted that.

I majored in systems engineering at what is now called Kettering University. It was GM Institute when I was there. Being a manufacturing systems engineer, you get to be like a jack of all trades.

I never really wanted a job where I was staying at one particular job. I've always been curious and wanting to jump around. So that's how my career has pretty much gone from TRW to GM and to now at Ford.

DN: What were some of the projects you worked on at TRW when you were a young engineer?

CR: I was a co-op student, and one of the best jobs I had was working on quality gauging. That was what really let me know I wanted to be in manufacturing systems, because in that process they gave me full autonomy for hours, telling management, what the cases were going to be, how much they're gonna cost for the entire plant. 

That paved the way for me to kind of grow into the person that I am today, not only from the engineering side but also on the business side.

To do those gauges, I have full control of my schedule so I didn't come in the same time as most co-ops. I came in probably around nine and I leave at five o’clock, I was able to work at home on some occasion and I will get paid for because I was a co-op student. I really enjoyed that particular project, that that that was one of my favorites.

DN: What was involved in doing the gauging work for the for the plant?

CR: They really, at that point in time, had no idea why gauging was even required. So, the small tools and gauges that they would use to calibrate, to check their equipment, they were hand gauges. They wanted them to be more organized so I came up with this idea of creating “days trays” and with the budget that they had given me I went out and sorted out suppliers and how much it cost. I came under budget!

As a student, Rice organized manufacturing for TRW. Image source: ZF

It was just for me a project where it was the first time I felt like, “Wow, you know what? I can do this!” and two, I wasn’t really pegged into an engineering job. I still have to do management, which fit into my manufacturing systems role. 

Three, it taught me that I really like having more empowerment to make decisions in the workplace. I think I was probably 19 or 20 at the time. So at a very young age, they really helped mold me to the person that I am today. It really was one of the best jobs or assignments I can think of throughout my career and probably be because it was such a critical point.

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