Interview with Lori Heino-Royer, Director, Business Development - Digital Vehicle Solutions, Daimler Trucks North America

Listen in to hear how Lori finds inner strength and rises to the top of her game after being told that "I had the highest paying job I would ever have in his company as a woman."

Learn more about Lori Heino-Royer at

Podcast Transcript:

Julie Roehm: 00:00 With me today, I have Lori Heino-Royer, who is a CPA and an MBA and the Director of Business Innovation in the project management office for Daimler Trucks. I just thought that combination of all those letters is super impressive. She started her career as a certified public accountant, providing her with a great foundation for understanding how decisions impact the bottom line. She realized that she was more interested in delivering financial results than accounting for them. I feel you on that.

So she then developed and ran Daimler Truck North America's first internal incubator. Lori led the initial team who developed and implemented the first version of a DTNA sales iPad app, which sounds super techie. Lori is skilled and passionate about telling stories and uncovering insights with data and providing actionable recommendations. Currently, she spends her time at Daimler doing business development in the connected and autonomous space, very happening spot at the CES. There's a lot of activity there on that, I know. She is a BiTA, Blockchain in Transport Alliance board member and a PSU, Portland State University alumni associate board member. In 2014, Lori received Portland Business Journal's Women of Influence Orchid Award. In 2015, she received the Manufacturing Institute's STEP Ahead Award for women in manufacturing. So, it is with great pleasure that I have somebody with your distinguished background and a fellow auto person join me. So, thank you.

Lori Heino: 01:35 Well, thank you for having me here today.

Julie Roehm: 01:36 It's fun. So, obviously, I had worked for DaimlerChrysler way back in the day when DaimlerChrysler were a thing. But I know a lot of women in the automotive world. And it's a kinship that we have I always find for women in auto. But the way that you found your way to the automotive world is sort of interesting to me. Will you share that?

Lori Heino: 02:01 Yeah. So, I didn't start in the automotive world and I didn't intend to be there. I started my career as an accountant. And as a young early adult, my ambition was to become a tax accountant and work during tax seasons and stay home and raise a bunch of kids. That didn't really work out for me.

Julie Roehm: 02:21 That one's all right. So you grew up like, "I can't wait to be a tax accountant."

Lori Heino: 02:24 Yes.

Julie Roehm: 02:25 You know, tax season as a child. How does one grow up aspiring to want to be a tax accountant to do people's taxes? Usually, it's painful.

Lori Heino: 02:32 But it was more about being able to add some income and not work the whole year. So, it was more focused on, I understood accounting and it made sense for me. So that was something that came very naturally to me. And it seemed like a great way that I could have supplemental income and work part of the year and then part of the year be at home and really be oriented with the kids. So, that was where I started. I went through the process to get my CPA. And you have to actually be in practice for a few years and pass the exam before you can actually get your certification. I did all of that. While I was doing that, I realized that that really wasn't what I wanted to do and really wasn't what I was happiest at. And I also got divorced during that timeframe. So my life was changing anyways.

Julie Roehm: 03:18 Did you have kids?

Lori Heino: 03:18 I did, I had one child at that point. So, I found myself as a single mom. When I had put myself through college, I worked for GE. And I answered the phone number on the back of a credit card. Then that's how I made my money to put myself through college to get my undergrad degree. And I knew I didn't want to work for a big company again. So, I basically swore off any large company and I said, "I belong with a small company." This is where my whole mantra was about never a big company again.

And so I worked for a couple of small companies and I just had a succession of things happen. So one company I was working for got bought by E-Trade. And they wanted to relocate everybody across the country and I wasn't able to do that. So then the next company I started working with, the CEO, I'll say he lacked integrity and it did not equal the integrity that I possess. And I found myself as a single mom saying, "This is not where I want to be." And I want to feel like the person that I'm working for and the company that I'm working for values the same things that I value.

And so, I quite honestly took the job at Daimler, which we were known as Freightliner at the time, as a hold-me-over job so that I would basically have some stability. Because at that point I was a single mom and I was back in school trying to get my MBA because I knew that accounting wasn't exactly where I wanted to be forever. But I knew that I needed to expand my skills in order to get to the next place. So, I took a job at Freightliner at the time in corporate audit. And I started there in corporate audit and was able to move into many new and very different things throughout my career.

Julie Roehm: 05:04 That's amazing. So I always... Look, I love it. That's best-laid plans and you've had some good ones. But was there a... I ask this holy shit moment question and we've all had at least one. And I know you thought you had one early on that was really pivotal for you. Can you share that?

Lori Heino: 05:23 Yes. It was even before I went to school, so I did not take the traditional path and graduate high school and then start in college. I did that and I took a couple classes and I hated it and it wasn't for me and I wasn't really ready to be in school. And so-

Julie Roehm: 05:38 I think that's super important, by the way, in this day and age. I want to take a pause there because you've been amazingly successful and I think is... You're a mother. I'm a mother. We push our children that success looks like just what you said, right? Going from here and to college. And you did that and found out for yourself that that wasn't right. That is true for a lot of people, that it isn't necessarily the right path. So, what was it? You didn't feel connected? Can you share a little bit about what that was?

Lori Heino: 06:05 I was taking classes and I didn't understand them and it all still felt very uncomfortable for me. So, I wasn't able to relate in the real world of why those things were important to me or why and how they would be important to me in the future. And so, they were almost meaningless. So I was doing them because I was being told to go down this path but it didn't have a meaning or a purpose for me. And so, I just quit taking them. I said, "This isn't the right thing for me." And I spent a little bit of time sort of floating around different things. I thought I had figured life out because I was 22 years old. I was making $10 an hour. And I thought, "What could be better? What more do I need in life? How does it come together?" I had started working for this company and the guy that I was working for, it was a small company. He told me that I had the highest paying job I would ever have in his company as a woman.

Julie Roehm: 07:03 And what are you, in your 20s at this point?

Lori Heino: 07:05 Yeah, I think I was about 22.

Julie Roehm: 07:06 Jesus, right. Wow. Boom. Here it is.

Lori Heino: 07:09 Here's what the world looks like, right?

Julie Roehm: 07:11 Wow.

Lori Heino: 07:11 It was really interesting because, in the moment when he said it to me, I was asking for "what was next, what's the next step? What do I get to do next?" And to have that sort of be my reality was really a slap in the face. I don't even really kind of remember what happened the rest of that day or how I got through the rest of the day because it was just a jumble in my head. Like "I don't know what just happened." And I waited until I got home. By the time I got home, I broke out into like full-blown tears. And I'm talking like tears pouring down.

Julie Roehm: 07:44 Well, congrats for making it home to do that. 22, especially.

Lori Heino: 07:49 And I just had no idea what that meant for my life. Right? Like I felt like I was doomed. My life was over. I was 22 and I was never going to be anything more.

Julie Roehm: 07:58 Wow.

Lori Heino: 07:59 And I thought, "That's not who I am." And so, I literally started... I knew I couldn't work for this person anymore. I'm like, "I just need a new job." And I started looking for the job. This was before the Internet was so prevalent as it is today, especially for jobs. And you had to look in the newspaper. So I'm trying to look.

Julie Roehm: 08:16 Kids, it's that stuff.

Lori Heino: 08:19 That makes your hands dirty.

Julie Roehm: 08:20 It makes your hands dirty and you have to flip through.

Lori Heino: 08:21 Right. And I'm trying to look through the want ads and I'm crying so hard that like the newspaper's being wet so I can't really see everything.

Julie Roehm: 08:29 Like a bad music video, right?

Lori Heino: 08:31 It is. It's like but this was my real life. So, as I was looking at the jobs and I'm trying to circle things that looked like they might be interesting, what I realized is that this guy basically took the shortcut. He said that the problem was my gender. And the problem wasn't my gender. The problem was that I didn't have any skills because I didn't put myself in college. I didn't do anything. So because I had left that track in my life, I didn't have anything that these jobs were looking for. And that was how I gained my purpose and my vision of what school was about. So when I went back to school, I ended up graduating cum laude and having honors through school. Because it was important to me because it meant something because I could see what it was going to do for me in my life. And I never understood that when I tried the first time.

Julie Roehm: 09:23 Yeah. First of all, wildly mature of you. I would have been bitter at that man for a good long time. So I think that you've risen above that and were like, "You know what? It was a gift actually because he opened my eyes." And it sort of led you to the path where you are. So sometimes if we see that window in those negative situations, it can lead to really great things. But was there, I mean, was it really self-revelation? Were you speaking, I don't know, did you speak to your mom or did you speak with a friend when they were like, "No, look, it's not your gender that's holding back, it's just skills." And if you had these, did you come to that on your own or was there somebody in your life?

Lori Heino: 10:03 No, I think it was pretty much on my own. I was married at the time and he and I talked through it a lot. And it was really, I mean, just realizing as you're sitting there trying to circle jobs and realizing I wasn't qualified for any of them. It was the realization that I wasn't qualified. And I'm like, "Well, what I need to change is me." And then, I didn't really realize, I think and able to put it in those words until much later in my life.

Maybe about eight or nine years ago, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what the pivotal moments in my life were and what they meant. And that was where I really was able to articulate, he chose the short way by saying it was my gender because it was easy for him to say. It's more difficult for people to give you real feedback. And the real feedback there would have been, "Look, you don't have the skills to advance in my organization." That would have been legit but you have to actually figure that out. And so, instead of trying to figure that out, he just took the shortcut and said it's your gender.

Julie Roehm: 11:02 You've had more of those sort of hoshimos, those big holy shit moments. You'd mentioned to me when we spoke earlier that you had this sort of... You continue on this path of self-reflection but you had this moment of self-reflection when you were promoted to an executive.

Lori Heino: 11:22 Yes. I'll say I was almost caught off guard in a lot of ways by that. I had been working at Daimler for several years. There are a lot of pivotal moments and things that happened in my career at Daimler. And I had moved to different jobs, into different roles. In about the 2008 timeframe, I had just recently got remarried. I was pregnant with my second child and they were relocating the company, the division that I worked in, to the other side of the country. And I wasn't ready to move. I had just got married, I'm pregnant. I'm like, "I'm not ready to do this." So, I actually signed paperwork to leave the company. And to take a package and say, "Okay, I'm done."

Then the economy completely started falling apart. And I was like, "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't have done that. Maybe I shouldn't be so quick." So, I reached back out to other departments that I had worked in before and I reached back out to our CFO. And I said, "Hey, I know that I've gone down this path to say that I'm going to leave the organization. I don't know what you might have open but I'm really open to staying. But I know that I can't stay in the sales world, which is where I've lived in the past five years." I said, "If you have anything open at all, I'd be interested in talking about it." And so, he called me back. Literally, I left him a voicemail that kind of said that at about maybe let's say two o'clock in the afternoon. By five o'clock that evening, I had a position in his organization. Which I think speaks towards working for a large organization, which, remember earlier I didn't want to ever do again.

Now I see all the benefits in that as well. So, the fact that they know me and they know who I am and they know what I'm capable of and they're willing to let me do other things and they know how to use my skills is really an advantage that you don't get when you're with small companies. You have to jump from company to company and then you have to teach everyone what your skillset is every time you do that jump. When you're with a large organization, they know what that is. They count on it from you and they push you to new places.

Julie Roehm: 13:30 So was this role the promotion?

Lori Heino: 13:32 So, almost.

Julie Roehm: 13:33 Oh, okay.

Lori Heino: 13:33 So basically, I took a job in a whole new space again, which was doing project management. And I came in and I represented sales in the project management area. We had a leader, our executive, and we followed him. So I spent about two or three years in that role. Then he was getting promoted and he was relocating to Germany. I'm thinking, "Oh, who's going to end up in his job?" And I'm laying out the list of people that are most likely and he comes into my office and he says, "I'm recommending you." I about fell out of my chair because I was preparing for like, "Who's my next boss going to be and how does it come together?" I wasn't necessarily looking at it to say I'm going to be the next person who stepped into that. So, the moment that that occurred, I was like, okay, here I am. "You've got to step up. You got to make this happen."

And it wasn't only becoming an executive, it was a very specialty situation where this particular role reported directly to the CEO with two levels missing. So, it's like the first level as an executive, there's two more levels of executive, and then the CEO. Normally, you would never report to the CEO like that. So it was a very specialized position. And I recall thinking to myself like, "Am I really ready for this? They wouldn't say I was ready for this, they wouldn't believe in me if they didn't believe, so, I am ready. Now, you actually have to go make this happen." I had the great honor of reporting directly to the CEO for six years, which was a whole set of new growth and development as well. But that moment of somebody walking into your office and saying, "You're the person we're going to recommend" just really was one of those moments like, "Did that just happen?"

Julie Roehm: 15:15 Yeah. So, why didn't you or maybe why was it a shock to you? What's behind you that you weren't like, "I absolutely should be considered for this"?

Lori Heino: 15:27 Well, I think, they call it the... There's so many words for it, this syndrome that I don't belong at the table. What are all those things? I grew up my... I was raised by my mom as a single mom with my brother. You heard my path towards school was not the traditional path toward school. I had no Ivy League criteria in my background. So, a lot of what I had seen modeled and what I'd seen make to executive levels before was really that type of person that wasn't who I was. And I did not see myself as that. So, I even today don't have aspirations that say I have to get to the next level. And I have other counterparts and colleagues that I work with that are very determined and they have to get to the next level. That's what success looks like for them. And for me, I define my success in how I am living my life. So, my success is defined, "Am I able to spend time with my children? Am I able to spend time with my grandchildren?"

Julie Roehm: 16:36 Wait a second, you have grandchildren?

Lori Heino: 16:39 I do.

Julie Roehm: 16:39 Stop it.

Lori Heino: 16:40 We have five.

Julie Roehm: 16:41 Whoo. This is where video and photos must come in because you look like you're 35 years old. So, okay.

Lori Heino: 16:48 I'm much older than that but thank you.

Julie Roehm: 16:50 Wow.

Lori Heino: 16:51 But the grandchildren are from my husband. So, my second marriage and we both brought children to the marriage. Together, we have five kids and five grandkids.

Julie Roehm: 16:51 Congratulations.

Lori Heino: 17:01 And our kids go in age from the youngest is 10 and the oldest is 42. And then, our grandchildren are between the ages of five and 12.

Julie Roehm: 17:11 Oh my gosh. Wow. I love that. The aunts and the uncles are sort of like the same age or the nephew or niece is older than the aunt or uncle situation?

Lori Heino: 17:20 Exactly.

Julie Roehm: 17:21 That's funny.

Lori Heino: 17:23 So, life has just been for me about "what do I want out of my life?" And I work different hours. I get into the office at 6:00 in the morning. I typically leave by 3:00 or 3:30. So if I'm still there at five o'clock, people are like, "What's wrong? Why is she still here? What's happening?" And those kinds of flexibility are because I've been with the company so long and they know I'm going to accomplish everything. And so, I'm looking for things like "what makes my world tick? What do I need to make it happy, to make my world happy and to make this circle of people that are in my world happy?" I'm much more interested in that as my direction and my goal than I have to get the next level.

Julie Roehm: 18:05 A title attached to your name.

Lori Heino: 18:07 Exactly. So, even the level that I'm at now, I was never a person like, "I have to be at that level or I'm not going to be happy in life."

Julie Roehm: 18:14 Good for you. Good for you. And so I'm going to go back to something you said about, you didn't have that Ivy League pedigree. But I think you told me a story about how you went to a... Was it Harvard executive training or an executive women's seminar?

Lori Heino: 18:31 Yes. So I've done a couple things since. When I was reporting to the CEO, I had a lot of opportunities. And I was able to develop myself in ways that I never imagined I could. So one of the things that we talked about that he saw in me was like, "You have to believe in yourself in a way that you don't." And I'm like, "Well, I don't have this." And he's like, "So go get the Harvard Ivy, whatever you need, go figure it out." As part of my development track, which is really unusual, right? Like you don't have that kind of development or I haven't always had that kind of development on a personal level.

Julie Roehm: 19:06 Well, you're used to people being like, "This is about as good as it gets, sister."

Lori Heino: 19:09 Yes.

Julie Roehm: 19:10 "Don't aspire for anything else." And now you've got a... Was it a man?

Lori Heino: 19:13 Yes.

Julie Roehm: 19:15 A male manager executive saying, "No, no, go get it. Go to Harvard."

Lori Heino: 19:18 Right. "Go figure it out." And so, I went to Harvard Executive Women's Leadership program, which I think was like a two-week program onsite at Harvard. So we actually stayed in dorms and did all this. And it's a collection of women from around the world. You have to apply to get into the program. And what you had to do was you had to say something that you were struggling with in your life, whether it's personal or work. What they did is they put you in groups. And in the groups, we met every single morning before we had class and they called this our board of directors. By the time we left, we had worked through and every single one of us had a plan on how we were going to solve that problem through the work that we did with our board of directors each morning.

Julie Roehm: 20:04 So wait, the board of directors was the group of women that you were grouped with?

Lori Heino: 20:05 Yes, that you were grouped with at Harvard.

Julie Roehm: 20:09 And how many were they?

Lori Heino: 20:10 I think there were five in the group. So, it was a very small group. And then they had an advisor come in with you every morning. So, walking you through all the staff. And it was great because it was enough time that by the end of it, it was like that "I'm calling bullshit on you because you're not going far enough, you're not fighting for yourself enough. You're still hiding in this woman that you were before you got here." It was really inspirational for me. So, I came home and I said, "I need this for myself." And so, I actually spent about two years developing my own personal board of directors right here.

Julie Roehm: 20:10 That's crazy.

Lori Heino: 20:44 Most of them are in Portland, not all of them are. And we get together and it's not quite as formal. So we've put our own touch on it. We generally meet out at the Allison or some other nice hotel. And I think generally, everybody brings their own bottle of wine.

Julie Roehm: 21:02 Nice.

Lori Heino: 21:02 So we go through a lot of wine in the evening. But we basically kind of talk through what are the issues we're facing with our families, at our employment, and just in life in general. And how do we help and support each other? It's been fabulous because we've also become just friends and a few of us have kids that are very similar in age. And the unique thing is that several-

Julie Roehm: 21:28 And grandchildren.

Lori Heino: 21:29 Yes.

Julie Roehm: 21:29 Jesus.

Lori Heino: 21:29 Well, I think I'm the only one with grandchildren. But our kids are also like... We're so alike and so different at the same time. So, my daughter goes to a full Spanish-immersion school. Well, one of the other women, her daughter goes to a full-immersion school in Chinese. I have another one whose daughter goes to a full-immersion school in German. And so, they're not in the same languages but the same sort of approach to how the education experience. So we have a lot of similarities but we're all in completely different fields. And so, if somebody's speaking at an event, we try to come and support that person. We're there for each other, even on text messagings on a day something doesn't go well. On a day when you want to celebrate and you're the boss and you can't go in and go, "I just had this home run" in front of your whole team and kind of look crazy, you can reach out to any one of them and they want to celebrate with you. And so, it gives you this outlet to be yourself in a way that I didn't have that outlet before.

Julie Roehm: 22:30 That's great. And so, hopefully, that it... I mean, have you found that it... Because I look at you, I'm like, "Why?" You should be thinking like, "I absolutely should be president and the executive." And has it changed how you see yourself and your confidence? Not that you seem not confident, by the way, but just changing your mindset at all?

Lori Heino: 22:50 No, I think it helped me get clearer with my mindset. So, I used to always say I want to be the CEO of my own company. And I was on kind of this hellbent thing that I was going to either create my own company or buy a company or I was going to do something. What I realized as I really got honest with myself and had others be brutally honest with me. Right?

Julie Roehm: 23:11 Yes.

Lori Heino: 23:11 Which is what that's all about. That that wasn't really what I wanted. And what I really want is to be able to make an impact on areas where I have expertise. Truly, that is more important to me than to have a title. And I was always going after that CEO-type title because people told me that's what the next step is. And so, I was stuck again on that path that somebody else put me on and it wasn't really working for me.

So, I actually had a lot of opportunities. And I had several CEO roles approach me and say, "Are you interested? I'd like to have you be the CEO of my company and here." At the end of the day, it just wasn't so interesting anymore. And I was like, "Well, why is this not interesting?" Like I really need to sort of pull this apart and unpack it in a way that I can understand. And that was where I really came to the understanding of that's not really what I want. What I really want is to be able to spend time with my family and I want to be able to make a difference. I want to have impact in ways that other people aren't capable of giving impact. And so I've really spent my time focusing on those things.

Julie Roehm: 24:20 So, one of the last little piece of your story that I thought was fun I'd like to hear about is how you've taken sort of these strange approaches or these nuanced approaches, if you will, whether it's your board of directors all the way to your teams. I don't know if you do it at home with the family and you make the kids and the grandkids do it but you talked about this improv.

Lori Heino: 24:41 Yes. So, I do lots of crazy things but in very good ways. In business, what we find is that there's a lot of things that we do that are taught to us in business school that are really not all that effective. And it's also kind of like this capitalist approach on the individual as opposed to the team. Then in the past, I'll say decade, this whole "oh, you need to work as a team" has come about in the workplace. But nobody really teaches you how to be a good team member. Nobody really teaches... Maybe if you played a sport through school, you kind of got that. I was never into sports or really on teams as a kid growing up. So teams for me have always been this like, "What does this really mean? Well, I don't get it." Like it was kind of not really there for me.

And so, I started with this organization called On Your Feet. They do improv for business. And what they do is they teach improv and the tenets for improv but they translate them into business activities. So, for example, one of the number one tenets of standup improv, and this is kind of like Whose Line Is It Anyway that you've seen on TV a hundred times. It's not about trying to be funny. It's about having each other's back. So, what makes it enjoyable for us to watch is that each person is paying 100% attention. And they are trying to make what the person in front of them said look better. So, they're trying to support each other.

And so, it's not that they've come up with these funny jokes that they're going to stand up and tell you like a standup comedian, in this row, in this way, there's the tone of their voice and the inflection is going to make you laugh. That what's in funny and what's fun for us is that they're paying so much attention and they're intentionally trying to make each other look better. And I can't think of when was the last time I went into a meeting and felt that everyone around me was going to do nothing but try to make me look better.

Julie Roehm: 26:42 Yeah. Wow.

Lori Heino: 26:43 And I thought, "What would happen in our careers if we could bring that kind of tenet into the workplace, that every time you walked into a meeting that everyone was actually trying to make everyone else look better? Like what does that mean?" So the other piece of the improv that I truly enjoy is the art of listening. And I think that a lot of people think that they listen but they really don't. So there's a difference between hearing and listening. And with the improv, you really have to listen as part of it. I don't ever recall taking a class in my education where it was focused on how to actually listen. So they teach you things like be an active listener, repeat back what the person said. But it doesn't really take it into true form of what it means.

So for example, in the improv class that we do, one of my favorite games is called the Physical Telephone. And so, what you do is you line up a row of people, let's say like 10 people. And each person is facing in the same direction so they can't see each other. You tap a person on the back and you do three body movements. And then that person sort of falls off and that person has to turn around and do the three body movements to the next person. By the time it gets, it's never the same. And that's because as we're listening, we're also bringing our life experience and our interpretation of what just happened. When we then share that interpretation, it's different than what we actually saw.

And so, this listening component to try to actually really listen to what a person is saying is more than just "did you hear them?" But "how did you interpret it? And what is your expectation for how much they get?" And so, when you actually see this in life occurring in front of you, it gives you a whole new appreciation of how you might communicate in the future. If this is the one thing that they have to get every single time, how do you give it to them in 25 different ways so that they're all coming back to the same thing? And it's really about how people listen.

Julie Roehm: 28:56 It's amazing. I love that improv situation where you don't leave one another hanging. Learning to be a listener, not just memorizing and reciting, but listening. And listening for those cues to be able to give back is amazing. Well, this has been fantastic. Lori, what a great story. I love the very nontraditional approach you took. I love the way that you've used these great holy shit moments in your life to just not only make yourself better but actually give something nuanced back to your teams. And that you've settled on what's important successes, not just the title. It's much, much more.

Lori Heino: 29:37 Right. Well, thank you for having me today.

Julie Roehm: 29:39 My pleasure. Thanks so much.

Lori Heino: 29:40 Absolutely.

Julie Roehm