Kary Schaefer always envisioned a high-flying career, but it turned out to be grounded.
And she couldn’t be happier.
As the general manager of product marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America, Schaefer leads the Freightliner Trucks and Detroit marketing organizations in the launch of upcoming products, steering product strategy requirements, and implementing customer and dealer satisfaction initiatives.
It’s heady stuff for Schaefer, who, upon graduating from Washington State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, envisioned her future would likely be working for Boeing Aircraft, a big local employer.
“After college I thought I’d work at Boeing as an airplane engineer,” she said. And I did spend some time at Boeing (between DTNA positions). When I started at Daimler, I didn’t think about how long I’d be here—or whether I’d be involved with trucking. But our industry is so interesting, with the impact we have on jobs and shipment of goods. It’s fascinating. We have a huge impact on our society, and it’s tangible. We see the trucks on the road. We get to drive them and see them deliver goods to everyone.”
Schaefer’s résumé should include a visual of an arrow shooting straight up. Before Daimler, she had high-ranking positions with Boeing, Pacific Testing Laboratories, Abossein Engineering and United Technologies Corp.
At Daimler, she progressed from design engineer, to project planning engineer, to manager, to director of engineering services, to chief engineer, to director of engineering, and to her current post.
Suffice it to say, she uses her skills well and is recognized for such, with her latest promotion drawing praise from Richard Howard, senior vice president of sales and marketing for DTNA. “Kary’s proven experience is perfectly aligned with our organizational vision to maintain our leadership position through innovation and product achievement,” he said. “Kary’s keen understanding of our industry, business and products will be instrumental to delivering our message to our dealers and customers.”
Schaefer agreed that her education and prior work experience blended well.
“I enjoy problem-solving, being presented with a challenge and trying to work through it,” she said. “Engineering has a lot of problem-solving. It’s basic for design. In this role, I really enjoy interactions with customers and dealers, finding how our products and services can help solve issues in their businesses and can add value for them.
“Talking with customers and dealers allows me to bring their business requirements and product requirements back into the organization and helps shape our product and technology roadmaps. And it helps me work with my team to position our products and technology in the market.”
To do so requires travel—lots and lots of travel.
“I’m on the road every other week,” Schaefer noted. “Part is speaking at industry events about Freightliner trucks, and I’m active with visiting customers and dealers. I’ve been at this job a year and half, and my goal is to visit all the top dealers. I go to two or three a month.”
To keep up with the trucks she talks about, Schaefer gets up close and personal with them, as in climbing aboard and rolling down the highway.
“I have my CDL and was driving trucks for testing recently,” she says. “I was proud to get a CDL. Whenever I get the chance to be on road, I’m stoked to be in the driver’s seat. As a woman, I get some looks. I try to outdrive and outperform my male drivers!”
Schaefer said women bring unique benefits to the trucking industry.
“If anything, there are benefits to being a woman because we’re different,” she said. “We add a different perspective. But I’ve never once sat and thought, ‘I’m the only woman in the room.’ Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence. At Daimler, we have a number of women engineers and marketing professionals. I see more and more women joining the industry.”