Latino Professionals Association’s Yo Soy
Personal and Professional Quality
Sandra Keil, a native of Colombia came to Madison to study
English and never stopped “quality improving” in her own life until
she had firmly laid down roots in Madison.
Part 2 of 3
By Jonathan Gramling
When Sandra Keil was laid off from her banking job in her native
Colombia, she received some practical advice. While she had a degree
in industrial engineering, she only knew Spanish.
“When I started looking for another job, the interviewers asked, ‘Do you
speak another language,’” Keil said. “I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘We suggest
that you do because you are going to have more opportunities to find
Keil’s journey took her to Madison, Wisconsin to learn English and her
educational quest wound up with her receiving an MBA from Edgewood
College and work at Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. After
spending five years at Great Lakes, Keil came to a crossroads in her
journey. Should she stay in the position she currently held into the long-
term or should she make a move sideways and continue her educational
and professional journey.
“My manager said to me when we were talking about my career development, ‘Okay, you are doing very well, but your next step is manager,
my job,’” Keil recalled with a laugh. “’I’m not planning on going anywhere or dying anytime soon.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ It was really good advice
because he was telling me that I had more potential and I wasn’t going to be able to do it there. I didn’t think it was selfish. Someone else
would have told me that I was doing a good job for them and they wanted me there. But my manager told me to move on. He was honest with
me and I really appreciated that. He didn’t tell me to go look for another job, but I got the message. And I started looking for opportunities. I
wasn’t looking very hard because I was happy where I was. But I was open to opportunities. And this opportunity came up. It was 15-16 years
ago when the paper had an advertisement for a job. I saw it and said, ‘This looks good. This is something that I could do.’ I came to GE
Healthcare, they interviewed me and I’ve been here for 15 years in many different roles, all related to quality improvement.”
Keil enjoys her work at GE because she gets to see a project through from design to manufacture and it involves working with a new team of
people every time she begins a new project.
“With quality improvement in medical equipment, — because of the risk, and we do life support and it is a life and death situation — there is no
room for defects,” Keil emphasized. “And the risk is very high. And we are a highly regulated entity by the FDA. And I have to make sure that
we comply with the federal regulations, the standards. I do project management. In my project management from the design team, we make
new machines. A project might last 3-4 years. During the design development process, I have to make sure that all regulations, standards and
specifications are met so that when we sell this product, people are not in danger. I follow the project all the way from the concept to the
production. Each project involves new teams and different people. It’s like a new job every time you start a new project.”
Due to the high risk nature of their work and its impact on people’s lives, Keil and her team have to stay highly focused on their projects.
“We work with people for people,” Keil emphasized. “And that is the main motivator. When we do our products, we are saving your life, your
kids’ lives, and our family’s lives. And when we make it personal, that is the best motivator that we have in our teams. The other one is being
compliant, meeting the regulations. It’s doing the right thing at first so that we don’t have to spend time and resources fixing what we didn’t do
in the first place. That’s how we motivate people too, to do it right the first time. And there is a lot of engagement and daily communication that
we have to do with people. Teams are cross-functional. There is a great deal of respect for different people, different backgrounds, and different
levels of education. That’s how people remain engaged.”
Keil is a perfect fit with the work that she does.
“I enjoy the problem-solving,” Keil said. “I think I am good at it. I am able to see the big picture. And I feel that I can see it. I can help the teams
solve problems and move on. In project management and new product development, we see that very often. And we cannot just take the
feedback and wait for others to solve it. You have to be proactive. You have to be humble, in a way. I don’t know everything, but I know who
knows what I need. I can go out and find out the people and ask them for help. People are very willing. And I know where the information is if I
don’t know it myself.”
The next time that you are at UW Hospitals & Clinics for a procedure, rest be assured that it is Sandra Keil and the folks at GE Healthcare who
have created the medical devices with loving care. They perform their work as if their lives depend on it.