At Trane we get excited about engineering because it allows us to do things nobody has ever done before. For Kristin Sullivan, Senior Engineering Manager in La Crosse, Wisconsin, leading her team to take on new challenges, and finding creative ways to solve them, is just a great day at the office.
During college at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan, Kristin Sullivan was interning at an automobile parts company, specializing in drive shafts and axles, when a manager told her: “They say, the meek will inherit the Earth.” For a shy woman in an industry where shyness isn’t generally rewarded, this was a wakeup call.
“He told me that I worked really hard, and that was good, but it would be okay if I talked every once in a while,” said Sullivan. “It made me realize my shyness was holding me back.”
Sullivan approached the problem the way an engineer would: By embracing the best tools to succeed. She signed up for extracurricular activities at her college and was eventually elected student body vice president.
“I came to Trane and progressed in my career,” she said. “And I don't think people are describing me as meek. I don't feel like I'm shy anymore. I haven't been for a long time.”
Kettering University is historically linked to educating engineers for the automotive industry, but when Sullivan graduated in 2008, the job market was worse than thin. She was initially surprised to find herself at an HVAC company, but she soon found entirely new challenges she never anticipated.
“The automotive industry is high volume, but not a lot of variation in the products,” she said. “When you come to Trane as an engineer, you're dealing with a lot of variety. One person might be supporting very different product lines from project to project. It's a different application of engineering.”
Sullivan has been with Trane for 13 years and leads a team of nine engineers working on scroll compressors for Trane Commercial HVAC and Thermo King refrigerated transport products. The team conducts mechanical development for scroll compressors made by Trane. She enjoys the complexity of solving problems and developing novel applications.
“We have challenging problems that we get to solve using data,” said Sullivan. “I think all engineers learn that in school, and when we come into the workplace, the problems get increasingly challenging. We get to solve them as a team to make better products and have a positive impact on the world.”
Right now, Sullivan and her team are working on developing compressors for next-generation refrigerants and for expanded heat pump applications. She enjoys the technical challenge, and she also likes the broader goal: greater energy sustainability.
“There’s a diversity and complexity of products that we’re supporting, and that’s exciting and interesting,” she said. “There's no way we get stuck doing the same thing day to day. One of the things that’s special about Trane is the sense of optimism here combined with the collaborative nature of our teams and the desire for technical excellence. We do really good engineering work. We do things right.”
Over the years, Trane has strongly supported Sullivan’s development. She participated in the Women’s Leadership Program in 2018, which she believes helped her become more comfortable as a leader and a woman engineer. These are the kinds of lessons she likes to pass on.
“I advise young women that, if they are ambitious, to be really clear about their ambitions,” said Sullivan. “People assume young men are ambitious, but they don’t necessarily assume the same thing about young women. Women can get passed over if they're not clear about what they want.”
Trane is a strategic business of Trane Technologies, a global climate innovator. Trane Technologies brings bold thinking to our customers to advance the conversation on sustainability and achieve more through sustainable climate solutions for buildings, homes, and transportation. We're leading the way to a better future, and we boldly go.