Oct. 3, 2011
Letterwinners M Club president emeritus Dan Sygar will be writing articles for the LetterwinnersMClub web site throughout the year. In the article, Sygar asks new Letterwinners M Club President a few questions about her career, family and her vision for the M Club.
Questions and Answers
Letterwinners M Club President Mary Petrovich Current Letterwinners M Club President Mary (Bitkowski) Petrovich was a four-year letter winner in softball ('82-'85), and was named U-M's Outstanding Female Scholar Athlete in 1985.
After graduating with an engineering degree from Michigan and an MBA from Harvard, Mary went on to a remarkable 20+ year international business career during which she transformed struggling global manufacturing businesses into industry leaders. From 2002 to 2011, Mary was CEO of AxleTech International (formerly Rockwell). When AxleTech was acquired by General Dynamics from The Carlyle Group in 2008, Mary continued to lead that business unit for General Dynamics.
In 2007, she was honored with U-M's Industrial and Operations Engineering Alumni Merit Award.
Today, Mary is active on a number of other public and private boards including The Woodward Governor Company, Modine, Manufacturing, GT Advanced Technologies, Western Golf Association/ Evans Scholars Foundation, and U-M's College of Engineering National Advisory Council. She and husband Scott have 12- and 14-year old boys, (Kevin) and (Kyle). Letterwinners immediate past president Dan Sygar traded emails during the summer of 2011 with Mary. Here's what came of it.
Dan Sygar: How did your competitive spirit come to be?
Mary Petrovich: It was easy given the environment I grew up in. I was the oldest daughter in a family of eight. Life was all about keeping up with my three brothers on the playing field and fighting for basic rights in a 1,500 square-foot home. I shared a bedroom with my four sisters. My mom was a widow at 32 with eight kids ranging from nine years old to newborn. No life insurance, no college education. As the oldest girl, I became the de facto "mother" to my three youngest siblings. My mom went to work to eke out a living making meager wages. Life became all about working hard to survive as a family in a tough situation. I grew up fast. When you live through that, competing in sports and dealing with pressure isn't so hard. In fact, whether it's in sports or business, competition continues to be a great escape for me.
DS: How did you end up at Michigan? Was it a one-horse race or did you consider another (lesser) school?
MP: Michigan was the one from the get-go. I wanted to get the best education with the best degree possible so I could get a job and a salary that would catapult me out of the lower class. It worked. Academics was priority 1A, athletics was priority 1B. I won an Evans Scholarship (tuition and housing, 4-year caddy scholarship). If there was a choice---there wasn't---it was between Michigan and Michigan State. Not much of a decision there.
DS: Where did you caddy? Where did you play your prep softball?
MP: I caddied at Franklin Hills (MI) Country Club for eight years. I played at Birmingham Groves High School.
DS: What about your time at Michigan?
MP: I enrolled in Michigan's toughest undergraduate major, engineering, and graduated with a 3.2 GPA within four years while playing a varsity sport. I'm proud that I excelled in two very different worlds, but it wasn't easy. I studied a lot more than everybody else. It always peeved me off that someone who majored in kinesiology with a 3.5 could be an academic All-American but an engineering major with a 3.2 couldn't.
Softball wasn't easy, either. I walked on as a freshmen and replaced a senior who got cut from the team. One of my proudest moments ever was seeing my name on the list posted on the locker room door of who made varsity. It was a Rudy-like moment.
Ultimately, I became a starter my junior year and captain my senior year.
DS: How did the team do when you were there?
MP: We finished third in the country my freshman year and even got onto ESPN in the early days of the network in the Women's College World Series. Hutch (U-M softball coach Carol Hutchins) became head coach my senior year. I was her first captain.
DS: What about the quarter of a century since Michigan.
MP: I went to Harvard to get my MBA. Very intense, very competitive environment. I met a lot of certified smart-guys, many who became friends. The guy who invented the Blackberry was in my class. Mark Fields, senior VP at Ford now. Some of the guys who started Amazon with Bezos. A pretty impressive group. But, like softball, I hung with them. The next 20 years was a blur of 80 hour work weeks, work travel, and a period of paying my dues in a variety of hard core manufacturing environments.
I also met my husband Scott. That's another great Michigan story. My roommate at Michigan called me when I was at Harvard and $60,000 in debt. She said we had to go to the Rose Bowl since we had never gone. It was 1989, Michigan versus USC. I told her I was poor and she needed to find a place for us to stay. Enter Scott Petrovich, who lived a mile from the beach in Costa Mesa. He was a friend of her brother. Scott picked us up in his BMW and we had a great week, all capped by a M victory. The rest is history.
DS: Now you're president of the Letterwinners M Club, a group of more than 9,000 of the greatest humans who walk the earth. What makes you most proud of being president, and what's the greatest opportunity ahead?
MP: What makes me most proud is leading and setting direction for an incredibly elite organization of highly accomplished athletes and business professionals who've been honored to wear the block M. It is a privilege for me to be able to give back to Michigan in representing our amazing tradition.
The greatest opportunity? Improving the awareness of the club and its role as the common bond that links all former varsity athletes through our great tradition. Only 20% of our former letter winners are dues paying members of the club. We need more to be active and involved in order to be the benchmark alumni organization that we should be.
We also have a tremendous opportunity to help current U-M student-athletes with career guidance as mentors throughout their college education. They're getting a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. We should be passionate about driving them to make the most of it with a running start on their career immediately after they graduate.