Unlike most automotive manufacturers, Tesla has no status quo. That’s good news for Grace Overlander SM ’08, MBA ’08, who believes that we can always make things better.
“I like having to figure things out on the fly,” she says.
Overlander started working at Tesla two years ago as a program manager launching new battery products. She was promoted within the year and is now in charge of producing and introducing new powertrain products. Tesla’s goal is to continue to improve the product and the launch process every time.
“Change at Tesla is fast and furious," she says. "We have a product that we want to stick around for a long time, and we’re focused on always continuously improving it.”
Overlander previously worked at Eaton, at Goodrich, and then, after finishing MIT’s dual-degree Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program, at General Motors, where she started as a manufacturing floor supervisor. But it wasn’t until she moved to the Volt battery team that she discovered her passion for energy and the fast-paced nature of product development—both of which led her to her current role at Tesla.
As a manager of new product introduction, Overlander works specifically on developing high-voltage batteries, drive units, and power electronics, and she was responsible for the initial builds of Tesla Energy, which is developing products for home and industrial energy storage. “At Tesla we’re still really pushing the envelope and trying to create something that’s better than anything else that’s been created before,” she says.
In her time at Tesla, Overlander has successfully launched more than a dozen products. She is also devoted to helping others flourish in their careers. She has been recognized for mentorship in her work with her team at Tesla, with MIT students through the LGO program, and with young girls in the community through STEM programs. She recently received the Business Leadership Award at the 2015 C3E (Clean Energy, Education, and Empowerment) Initiative’s Women in Clean Energy Symposium, an event that was cohosted by the MIT Energy Initiative and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Overlander and her family—her husband, Marshall, and three children under five—relocated to California so she could pursue the opportunity at Tesla. But she feels right at home in the Golden State, where she works with a strong contingent of MIT alumni—including the one who originally recruited her for the role.
This article originally appeared in September/October 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.