“Most people probably wouldn’t say this, but I love hospitals,” says Lane Konkel. As a child growing up in Wisconsin, the 26-year-old lean manufacturing engineer would accompany her father, an orthopedic surgeon, to his office. “I’d play around with the little models of the knee and pull on the ligaments or I’d visit patients post surgery. For me, hospitals are connected to a lot of really great memories.”
So why didn’t she pursue medicine? Like many doctors’ children, she’s heard the question before and is ready with an answer. “I was always fascinated with human anatomy and physiology,” she says. But the idea of interacting with patients directly didn’t excite her. What did excite her: building things. So she enrolled at Purdue University to study engineering.
But she didn’t walk away from medicine completely. Konkel now works as a lean manufacturing lead for GE Healthcare in Phoenix. Her job entails making her ultrasound factory more efficient with data and software. She’s so good at it that she was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in manufacturing and engineering this year.
Though her work involves getting insights from GE’s Predix digital platform in making the plant run smarter, rather than bone drills and forceps, at its root lies a mission similar to her father’s — helping others.
Konkel initially thought she might go into designing prosthetics and implants. But ultimately she picked industrial engineering because of a lifelong passion for efficiencies and operations.
No, really. Even on her high school volleyball team or in student council, Konkel says, she was constantly hunting for opportunities to tweak and improve the world around her. “It was always very frustrating to me when things were inefficient,” she says. “I thought, ‘Hey, this could be done better — why don’t we change that?’ I was doing a lot of those things naturally, which is one aspect of industrial engineering.”
Konkel was still an undergrad when she realized she wanted to work for GE Healthcare. “I didn’t think I had a shot of getting a job with GE,” she says. When an older classmate insisted she apply for an internship, she went for it despite her misgivings. “I thought I bombed the interview,” she says. But a couple of weeks later, she got a call asking her to become an intern. “The rest is history.”
That internship turned into another one and then a full-time job with the company after she graduated in 2013.
Konkel acknowledges that being a woman in manufacturing makes her a minority — women account for just 14 percent of all engineers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — but she doesn’t dwell on it. “There’s probably been certain scenarios where people saw me and said, ‘Oh, that’s a girl. What could she know about manufacturing and engineering’ and things like that,” she says. “I just choose to have my work represent who I am rather than my gender, and that’s something I’d say to any females who are discouraged. There’s probably going to be people who doubt you your entire life, no matter who they are, but you just block those people out … and let your work show who you are.”
As a driven woman at the beginning of her career, Konkel admits that her instinct is to go, go, go — a tendency she realizes isn’t compatible with long-haul success. She recalls a period early in her time at GE before she’d learned this lesson. “I just took on too much. I didn’t know when to say no to different projects or opportunities, so people kept giving them to me, and I got really overwhelmed and nearly burned out. I didn’t want to let anyone down.” She says her manager intervened, stressing the importance of leaving work at a reasonable hour and setting aside time for herself. “I think you learn in your career that there’s always going to be more work to do tomorrow,” she says. “I need to have other things in my life so that I stay balanced. I learned that taking time to re-energize isn’t selfish or ‘letting anyone down’ — it’s the opposite. I need to take time to re-energize, so I can continue to serve and help others.”
The work and the problem-solving never end, but Konkel says the team atmosphere at GE keeps things moving in the right direction. “GE is definitely a place that promotes the idea that a team will create the best decision,” she says. “A cross-functional team is even better at getting the different perspectives.”
Because of that emphasis on teamwork, she says, being singled out for Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list didn’t seem entirely right. “It feels weird to get an individual award, because I feel like nothing that I have done at GE has been a solo project.”
When she’s not working on the manufacturing floor, Konkel devotes time to recruiting young talent on college campuses. Her advice for upcoming or recent grads on choosing an employer: For starters, she says they should ask themselves: “Do you like what you’ll be doing?”