Sonia Syngal ‘93 is a creator at heart, and that desire has shaped her career.
As she moved from the automotive industry to technology and finally the apparel industry it was the engineer’s imperative to express science through a design sensibility that captured her imagination.
Syngal joined Ford Electronics, first for her co-op then eventually full-time. After a few years she left Ford, moved to California and gained her graduate degree at Stanford University. From there she pursued a 10-year career with Sun Microsystems.
“It was an amazing time to be in the heart of Silicon Valley: right during the first dot-com boom,” she said.
Syngal, who was named the new global president of Old Navy, Gap Inc. in April, led a successful engineering and technology career, but she was looking for something that would tap into her creativity.
Before becoming the new global president, Syngal was EVP of Global Supply Chain and Product Operations for Gap Inc.
“I stepped back and reflected on what I wanted to do at 35 years old. I thought a lot about when I was in my teens, when I did a lot of designing and making of my own clothing,” Syngal said. “I wanted to get back into that creative environment.”
Growing up in Montreal she would create her own clothing. Around the age of 12, her aunts taught her to sew and her obsession began. She made her own clothing, clothing for her family and prom dresses for friends.
“It felt more like a hobby at the time. But in hindsight I liked both the right brain and left brain of creating and commerciality with tangible products,” Syngal said.
Since arriving at Gap Inc. in 2004 Syngal has served in key leadership and general management roles across the company. She has been based in both San Francisco and London where she held the role of Managing Director for Gap Inc.’s portfolio of brands in the European market. It was during this time she launched Banana Republic in France, Gap in Italy and then later, in her role as SVP of International, Old Navy in Asia.
When she acted as the company’s Chief Supply Chain Officer, Syngal’s organization spanned worldwide across 17 countries employing several thousands of employees and was responsible for a significant portion of the company’s operations and budget. She reported to the CEO and was responsible for transforming the company’s Product to Market model.
“We make millions of pieces of clothing a day. There are a lot of common challenges and business priorities between the apparel, automotive and computer industries,” Syngal said. “I found enormously transferable skills between each one.”
But working at Gap Inc. is about more than making clothes.
“Gap Inc. is close to my heart. I love the culture. And culture matters,” Syngal said. “It is a mission-based company focusing on social responsibility and quality. I work across all of our brands from Old Navy, to Gap, to Banana Republic, to Athleta and Intermix. My job is global and it’s very engaged in the world on the business side with positive impacts in the communities where we manufacture.”
Looking back Syngal is clear Kettering had a significant impact on her career by laying a solid foundation. It instilled skills in her that she would use in the entirety of her career.
“Kettering teaches you how to work. You work 48 weeks out of the year, either at school or in employment. That rigor and discipline is a real advantage at Kettering. The core jobs that create value in industry are well taught at Kettering. My joy in making things was well nurtured there,” Syngal said. “I went on to further my education at Stanford, but my Kettering education was probably the most formative in terms of shaping my future.”
Now more than ever engineers are needed almost everywhere. Syngal encourages students to look for the unusual opportunities.
“Engineering is everywhere. There is a need for engineering skills in every single business that exists on this planet,” she said, adding that there are several hundred engineers at Gap who are involved with not only coding and designing websites but innovating the way product development, manufacturing, sourcing and distribution centers work together.
It is clear being at Gap Inc. has given Syngal the design focused creativity she has always searched for and which she finds “extremely satisfying.”
“Combine a great engineering education with what you’re passionate about. I think you will find great success in life.”