Steel Market Development Institute Honors Three Automotive Steel Innovators

men and women of steel 2019

The individuals who were recently named the Steel Market Development Institute’s (SMDI) 2019 Men and Women of Steel may not be superheroes. However, they do great things when it comes to promoting the positive impact of steel in their respective positions.

For the fifth consecutive year, SMDI is honoring individuals for their innovative uses and applications of steel at work, as well as in the community.

The Industry Innovator award honors automotive designers or engineers who showcase superior capability and innovation in the application of advanced high-strength steel.

The Community Hero award recognizes governmental and community leaders who showcase both innovation and sustainability through the use of advanced high-strength steel.

New for 2019 is the Manufacturing Leader recognition. This award recognizes an individual who implements steel for intended automotive applications and collaborates with the industry to overcome identified challenges.

These three winners were honored last week at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Detroit during the North American International Auto Show, in front of an audience of their colleagues and peers as we celebrated their accomplishments and hard work.

Joe Riggsby

Acura RDX Body Development Leader, Honda R&D Americas, Inc.

Men and Women of Steel Industry Innovator Award

joe riggsbyGrowing up in the Midwest in Franklin, Ohio, Joe Riggsby was right in the thick of the automotive industry throughout his formative years, so it’s not much of a surprise that he always had in mind a career in automotive.

“From an early age, I loved taking things apart and putting them back together,” he says. “When it came time to go to college, I wanted to do something that would allow me to combine my love of designing and automotive.”

After graduating from Ohio Northern University, Riggsby went to work for Honda and hasn’t looked back since.

In 17 years of work with the company, he has contributed to the development of multiple models, including the 2006 Honda Civic trunk design, the 2008 Honda Pilot and the 2010 Acura ZDX tailgate system.

But his greatest accomplishment to date is the work he and his team completed on the all-new 2019 Acura RDX, and it’s that work for which he is being honored by SMDI.

As the body development leader, Riggsby led a team of global engineers to bring the world’s first ultra-high strength steel, inner and outer front door ring system.

Even though Riggsby can suggest any type of material for a project he’s working on, steel is often top-of-mind when it comes to deciding how he’s going to move forward.

“I usually start with steel because there are still ways to optimize and improve, which is what we did on the new Acura RDX,” he says. “At the end of the day, we are looking for the option that gives the customer the best value but achieves all of our requirements.

In an example of typical Midwest humility, Riggsby doesn’t want to take all of the credit for his work on the Acura RDX.

“I enjoy designing and working on solutions that impact society as a whole,” he adds. “Even though I’m the one receiving the award, there is no way I could have done this without my team.”


Carla Bailo

President and CEO, Center for Automotive Research

Men and Women of Steel Community Hero Award

carla bailoWhen Carla Bailo speaks to the young women she mentors, they are often surprised to hear her talk about the steel industry.

To them, steel isn’t “cool” in the same way that lightweighting and additive manufacturing is. But the way Carla views this conundrum, it’s all about design optimization.

“You use the best material, for the best cost, to meet the customer’s expectation and deliver the product performances you need,” says Bailo.

As more and more vehicles will soon be autonomous and electrified, design optimization will become even more vital, as will recyclability and reusability – two areas where steel can play a critical role.

Further, steel beats out the competition when it comes to total carbon footprint during the manufacturing process, which is a topic that is weighing heavily on everyone’s mind these days.

“You really need to look at the whole product, not just what’s coming out of the tailpipe,” she adds. “This is where the steel industry needs to think about total production because it gives them an edge, as steel is not a petroleum-based product.”

It’s this type of thinking that suits Carla well, as she finds herself leading a non-profit thinktank at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

Before CAR, she was The Ohio State University’s assistant vice president for mobility research and business development, where she was able to combine her love of industry with academia. It also fulfilled a desire to work with students and be on the cutting edge of research.

“I have loved the automotive industry since I was young,” says Carla. “My father was a tool and die guy, as was his father before him. My grandmother was a Rosie the Riveter.”

Carla wants to instill this same level of excitement in young women who might have thought about engineering as a career, but perhaps don’t have the historical knowledge she obtained growing up in a home where steel and automotive were a constant topic of conversation.

“I try to show that the world as they know it would not exist without the work of engineers,” she adds. “Everything from the clothes you wear to the chairs you sit on were designed by an engineer.”

Even, says Carla, the notebooks you write in.

“That steel spiral in your notebook? That was designed by an engineer.”


Doneen McDowell

Manufacturing Executive Director, General Motors

Men and Women of Steel Manufacturing Leader Award

doneen mcdowellThere is a vein of steel that runs through Doneen McDowell’s family tree, and it wouldn’t be crazy to say she owes her very existence to steel.

In the early 1900s, her grandfathers immigrated to America from Croatia and Italy, respectively, and went to work for Midland Steel (now a part of Crucible Industries) outside of Pittsburgh.

With more than 90 years of experience between the two of them, they understood the value of hard work and showing up every day, which is what they bestowed on their children and grandchildren while regaling them with steel mill stories at family meals.

“I have such pride in what my grandfathers did for us, clocking in at the mill every day without complaint,” says McDowell. “

Growing up, McDowell had little interest in the automotive industry. But her father, ever the forward-thinker, encouraged her to focus on a STEM education because he understood the value it would bring Doneen in her chosen career. This guidance led her to her first job out of Youngstown St., working for EDS within General Motors.

“There were two women in the engineering curriculum while in college for my undergrad,” says McDowell. “That experience taught me that I could hang with anyone in a largely male-dominated field, which has served me well over the course of my career.”

McDowell’s career spans a number of GM plants and facilities, as well as different disciplines within the GM manufacturing sphere, including assembly, stamping, and powertrain. Her experience has led her to now, where she leads the engine and component manufacturing within GM North America across 10 sites.

“The vehicles we build are the medium by which we deliver new technology to our customers,” says McDowell. “Thus, steel plays an important role in ensuring our customers stay protected.”

This award, explains McDowell, is very much humbling for her as, like the other award winners, she didn’t step into the profession to earn accolades. She loves the work she does every day and looks at it as an extension of the commitment her grandfathers had to their work.

“This award is a great opportunity to recognize those who paved the way for all of us today,” says McDowell. “I take such pride in what my ancestors did around the turn of the century, and I have so much respect for the generations who came before us who made it possible.”

It has allowed her to truly understand the value steel has played in her life, and gives her the opportunity to step into their shoes, if not the same way they did.

McDowell might not be heading off to the mill in the wee hours, lunch pail in hand, but she’s putting in a good, honest day’s work, and that’s something she can pass on to her kids.

These three automotive industry thought leaders are providing great examples of the ongoing innovation with new, higher-strength steels currently taking place in the automotive industry. For more information, visit

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