Sheri Hickok has worn many hats during her swift ascent through General Motors’ engineering ranks, racking up 10 job titles in a 15-year career. Her latest one comes with a pair of cowboy boots: chief engineer for GM’s full-size pickups.
Hickok, 37, was assigned in December to oversee GM’s most important vehicle program, the next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Since then, she has been looking over clay models with designers, discussing the mix of materials that GM will use to make the trucks lighter and less thirsty, and chatting with marketers about potential new features.
It’s Hickok’s job to orchestrate those efforts and ensure the pickups arrive on time and on budget. The pickups are still about four years off (industry insiders expect them in late 2018 or early 2019), so she’s tight-lipped on the details — so much so that in a recent interview, she refused to divulge the state that she was soon visiting to sit in on focus groups with prospective truck buyers.
She dropped a hint: She’s buying cowboy boots.
“I’m not a traditional truck driver, so to me that process will be really powerful,” she said. “The guy who owns the construction business, what does he need out of his truck? It’s probably going to be something very different from what I would want. We need to channel the customer the whole time.”
It’s the latest high-profile assignment for Hickok, a mother of two girls, ages 6 and 2. Her resume is unusually rich for a career GM engineer, and includes an MBA from the University of Michigan with a focus in corporate strategy and international business.
Hickok began with the basics, designing powertrain mounts and fuel systems. In 2008, she was asked to be chief of staff for GM’s then-global head of engineering, Jim Queen. She was tasked with helping assess the technical strengths of GM’s engineering centers globally, which gave her insight into the company’s far-flung operations.
Her first major management role came in 2010, when she led GM’s noise and vibration center at its proving grounds in Milford, Mich. It was a big job — she managed about 150 people — and a strategically important one for GM, which at the time was out to prove that it could do refined small cars with quiet, comfortable interiors.
The job required delicate people skills to persuade chief engineers on various vehicle programs to spend extra money for more refined interiors, says Ken Morris, an engineering executive to whom Hickok reported at the time.
“Convincing your peers and leaders that you have to add content to make the vehicles better requires a certain skill set that Sheri has,” Morris says. “She was able to translate data into an understandable story that fits the overall goals of the vehicle.”