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Advice from industrial engineer Danielle Nguyen

At recent guest lecture, the Coca-Cola plant manager and grad described the value of leadership skills to Concordia students
May 9, 2017
By Simona Rabinovitch

Typically, industrial engineers ‘primary roles involve optimizing complex processes.

However, Danielle Nguyen, BEng (ind. eng.) 04, plant manager at Coca-Cola Canada in Montreal, explains that success in the field can also depend on more personal elements.

“I’m very passionate about improving processes — including the human side,” she says.

Danielle Nguyen Danielle Nguyen, plant manager of Coca-Cola’s Montreal facilities, recently spoke at Concordia. She also acts as a student mentor and says her own mentors “accelerated” her career. | Photo credit: Amanda Clarke

Nguyen recently became a member of the Industrial Advisory Board of Concordia’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. On March 24, she returned to the university to give her fourth classroom presentation to students.

She takes pride in her education from the university’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science and is happy to give back to the community. “I would say the best four years of my life were at Concordia,” Nguyen says.

“I enjoyed everything about it. I loved the teachers. I still keep in touch with my friends. I developed great relationships with the engineering community, especially in mechanical and industrial engineering,” she says.

“The classes I took influenced me until today. I’m still using those techniques.”

During her Concordia guest lecture, Nguyen focused on the importance of soft skills. She also explained to students about Six Sigma, “a business method that allows the company to reduce cost, improve efficiency and improve quality.” Nguyen holds a Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification, the method’s highest level of achievement.

“I find engineers most of the time are very technical. They’re great with math, physics, data analysis; they’re awesome, no question about it. But when it comes to soft skills, that’s where they have a big opportunity to differentiate themselves and grow,” she explains.

“When you lead change, it’s not about the processes, it’s not about the machines, it’s all about the people. It’s about leadership skills.”

Nguyen adds, “In order to influence others, the first thing you have to do is look in the mirror, to recognize yourself.”

Road to Coca-Cola

Nguyen’s first job after Concordia was as a quality engineer at cosmetics company L’Oréal in Montreal, and she then spent 10 years at biopharmaceutical company Pfizer in Montreal.

“To me, Pfizer was like Harvard Business School because they allow you to develop yourself,” Nguyen says.

She moved on to Montebello Packaging, an aluminum products manufacturer. “I was in charge of the whole Canadian operations,” she says.

“I loved the job, but the travel was too much for me. I have a daughter. Coca-Cola offered me the opportunity to become plant manager in Montreal, so I took the opportunity.”

She has been at the company for about a year, and explains that her job consists of managing the daily operations of the Coca-Cola manufacturing plant.

“Every day is a new challenge and that’s why I love about my job,” she says. “I oversee employees, production, quality, warehouse, maintenance and continuous improvement, to make sure the plant runs efficiently, effectively and safely.”

Nguyen acknowledges that engineering is still male dominated, although that’s been changing in recent years.

"I remember being in the amphitheatre classes at Concordia, mixed with industrial and mechanical engineers. Often out of 100 students there were 90 men and 10 women,” she recalls.

That never really bothered her. “I work very well with both men and women,” Nguyen says. “As long as people are professional, work hard and have good values, I don’t see a difference.”

Nguyen reveals that her family greatly influenced her career path. She was fascinated by math and physics as a child, was guided into engineering by her mother.

“I’ll be honest: my mom was very strict. She gave me three options: become a doctor, a dentist or an engineer,” Nguyen says.

“We are five kids in the family. My big brother is an electrical engineer, my big sister is a computer scientist, I’m an industrial engineer, my little brother is an electrical engineer and my little sister is a chemist — and that’s because of my mom.”

Nguyen adds, “She gave us limited, but good, choices, which I guess is a good thing!”

Ali Akgunduz


Ali Akgunduz is professor of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering and associate dean of Academic Programs in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. 

“Danielle was in the first batch of students I had the chance to work with at Concordia. She was outspoken, never shy of taking responsibility for failures and extremely self-confident when it came to giving credit to others when there was a success. I had the chance to visit her at Pfizer and Coca Cola. She has all the necessary qualifications to be a strong leader.”

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