By Kathleen Parrish P’17 P’20 • Photography by Clay Wegrzynowicz

You don’t need to be a boy to have drive. Take Sherry Welsh ’85, who spent 25 years in automotive parts manufacturing, first at German-based Bosch and then as global head of sales for another supplier of auto parts. One of few females in the executive ranks of the historically male-dominated industry, Welsh thrived on 16-hour days, compressed deadlines, and flying to different cities around the globe each week for meetings with her team.

Anything you want to do well you have to do consistently over time.

Then the crash of 2008 hit, and Welsh found herself without a job for the first time since earning a degree in industrial engineering from Lafayette. What comes next is the stuff of our Q&A, and the inspiration for her book, Slowing Down: Unexpected Ways to Thrive as a Female Leader. Now an independent professional coach, Welsh works with clients around the world to help them find their best life. She lives on an island off the coast of South Carolina with her 18-year-old son.


What’s treadmill living?

It’s running from meeting to meeting, flight to flight, from one thing to another without any time in between to regroup, reset, or clear your head so you can show up for the next thing and do it well. That’s the life I led for many years. My mind was always racing. I felt like I was doing a lot of things at once, but none of them well.

What was the impact of that lifestyle?

I was exhausted and burned out. I survived on a lot of caffeine and not much sleep. I didn’t have very good relationships. I didn’t develop many friendships; my marriage didn’t work. You could say I succeeded in a career by operating that way, but I don’t know if that’s true.

When did you slow down?

It was triggered by the 2008-2009 financial crisis in the U.S. I had left Bosch after 20 years and taken a leadership position with another automotive supplier. We were going to take the company public. Then the world fell apart, and I found myself unemployed in Detroit. No one was hiring. I was a single mom to an 8-year-old, and I was scared. I thought, ‘OK, now what?’ I couldn’t get up and move because my ex-husband was living there, and we had joint custody. I ended up creating a consulting practice and did that for a year. I slowed down. I didn’t have to run from meeting to meeting because there weren’t any meetings to get to. I started to realize that I can see more clearly, I can be more effective, I have different ideas, and I’m a bit more creative.

You found creativity?

Coming from an engineering type of career in the automotive industry, I honestly didn’t think I was creative. Creativity just seemed for artists and musicians and other people, not for me. But that’s what treadmill living does; it doesn’t give you much time to exercise your creativity because that needs space and a bit of quiet and a different perspective. That year gave me a taste of what the slowed-down life was about.

How long did this slowdown last?

I got back into a career as a global sales leader for a British cosmetic packaging company. That was really fun, but it was traveling on an airplane to a different city around the world every week. It was really rigorous, and I did that for two years, so I got back on the treadmill after a short stint of experiencing the slowed- down life.

Did you miss the slowdown?

I think that’s where this shift happened. I started to realize I had options, but I didn’t want to go back to automotive because I had done that, so I started looking into getting certified as a coach. I worked another two years at the packaging company then left to coach full time.

What are the characteristics of a good coach?

I give my clients at least one or two sessions to really get the experience of what coaching with me would be like. If a coach doesn’t offer that, I’d question how good of a coach they might be. Good coaches really want you to be all in, they want you to make an investment in yourself, so you need to be clear on what you want to achieve and get out of coaching.  Maybe it’s a career change, or you need to find a better work/life balance, or you want to be more effective at your job, or improve relationships.

When you talk to coaches you want to see if they are really listening. Are they asking questions that open you up to different ways of thinking?  Are they willing to hold you to your agenda?

And the first thing you did was hire a coach of your own?

If you look at actors, they always have coaches—speech coaches, voice coaches, an acting coach, or whatever it might be. It’s the same with professional athletes. I now understand how coaching can help me thrive in every aspect of my life. My coach has helped me become a better parent, a better coach, a better friend, business owner, be better to myself. I’m more at peace and healthier than I have ever been in my life. That’s why I hired a coach and continue to work with one today—because I believe in it.

How would you describe slowing down to someone on the treadmill?

Let’s say you’re the head of an engineering department, and your job is to lead a team, develop products, and get them to market. Every day you can approach it with a slowed-down mind. It doesn’t mean you get to work 20 minutes late because you drive slower; it means you let your head settle so you can make decisions faster. In doing so, you’re clearer, you’re more focused, you’re more concise, so the meeting that used to take an hour or more can now take 50 minutes because the agenda is clear, the participants understand the purpose, and they show up and get things done more effectively. It’s actually a more gentle way of living.

That sounds a lot like mindfulness.

Yes, it’s definitely mindfulness; it’s being present and focused on the person in front of you instead of thinking about everything you’re going to do next week.

That sounds great in theory, but how does it work in real life?

It’s a practice. Anything you want to do well you have to do consistently over time. One of the things you can do is when you get to the office each day, look at the meetings on your calendar and decide whether they’re still relevant to what you want to contribute to the company. If you find one that’s not, let the meeting organizer know you won’t be attending. Then you’ve given yourself an extra 60 minutes to use in a different way, and that’s how you begin to practice the art of slowing down. That doesn’t mean you sit those 60 minutes idle. What it means is that you start to reflect on what would be a good use of your time. If the meeting organizer is upset or wants you there, have a conversation about that before saying yes, especially if it’s your boss. The default answer to the meeting being called by your boss is, ‘Oh yeah, I have to be there.’ When I was boss I’d invite my team to different meetings not necessarily because they needed to be there, but because I didn’t want anyone to feel left out. Many of them probably would have been grateful to not have been invited, but they felt obligated to say yes because I was their boss. They never questioned it.

You’re now a leadership consultant at Bosch after leaving the company 10 years ago. Have things changed?

Broadly speaking, I have seen progress. Many more women are happy with their careers there and have done well. I wouldn’t say many more women are at the top levels, because of the nature of the business model where certain men are considered to be next in line because they’ve worked with the global leaders for many years. It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever. It will continue to shift as more women decide automotive is a career they want to pursue. But for the most part there’s been a lot more flexibility at Bosch, and some of that is a result of small initiatives I started when I was there.

Is there anything you learned at Lafayette that has helped you navigate transitions in your career?

I think Lafayette gave me the confidence to switch gears in the middle of my career and do something entirely different without fear things wouldn’t work out. I was in chemical engineering for two years then switched to industrial engineering, but I actually had no idea what I was going to do with an engineering degree. Since Lafayette is a small community with really good access to professors who support you, I was able to graduate in four years. I’m proud of that. I ended up as a global sales leader. I was never planning to be in sales—it was never even on my radar—but then with the technical background I got in the engineering curriculum at Lafayette, I was able to start my career in manufacturing and then move into costing and then to talking to customers about cost structure at the manufacturing plant. It was an evolution that I ended up as a global sales leader. It was something that morphed because I didn’t feel so rigid or fixed that I had to be an engineer the whole time.