Industry Member Spotlight: DENSO

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Without manufacturing’s creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and trendsetting technologies, Michigan would be a far different place. In order for innovation to thrive, manufacturers need people with different backgrounds, different perspectives and different strengths. If people had the same uniformity as manufacturing’s assembly line, the ability to innovate would be lost.

“When we talk about diversity and inclusion, those aren’t buzzwords to us; studies show that companies with greater diversity & inclusion (D&I) also have greater diversity of thought. That can fuel innovation,” explained Denise Carlson, vice president of DENSO’s North American Production Innovation Center (NAPIC) and executive lead for diversity & inclusion.

As a leading Tier 1 automotive parts supplier since its inception, DENSO is now redefining its mission, vision and culture to become a global leader in mobility. To accomplish this, DENSO’s team needs to have a finger on the pulse of where the world is headed — including manufacturing as an industry, the needs of its customer base, new market opportunities, and technology trends.

“If we are suffering from sameness, we’ll never be challenged to think differently. We lose that ability to look to the future and imagine what’s possible,” said Carlson. “It’s important for all manufacturers to encourage diversity of thought. When people work where they feel accepted, it can promote greater output, better attention to quality and higher productivity — it really is all wrapped together.”

The journey toward better D&I is a continuing multi-stage process for Carlson and her team. Beginning with anonymous engagement surveys and in-person conversations — and aided by third-party consultants — every effort is taken to ensure employees feel at-ease with the process, trust they can speak honestly, and understand the company’s long-term goals.

“When you discuss D&I, it can lead to uncomfortable conversations. We rely on anonymity and some general separation in our advancement of these issues,” Carlson said. “In some cases, our in-person conversations occur between a well-trained leader and employees who don’t report to that leader.”

DENSO also has several cross-functional, internal organizations that primarily focus on workforce development, but also uplift D&I more implicitly:

  • North American Production Innovation Center (NAPIC): An underlying support system for all of DENSO’s North American production, NAPIC helps to optimize and align existing skillsets, tools and talent resources, including identification of specialists that can be utilized across multiple facilities to advance enterprise-wide manufacturing
  • North Technical Training Center: Located in Battle Creek, the brand-new, $1.95 million technical training center acts as an innovation and training hub for nearly three-quarters of DENSO’s Michigan talent and employees from across the company’s North American network

DENSO’s philosophy is that employees are the heart of its manufacturing business. By providing training to enhance talent and using cross-functional organizations, DENSO can increase diversity of thought and improve the health of the company.

“Advancing a D&I-mentality throughout our company culture is very important,” Carlson explained. “My hope is to eventually create a work environment where diversity and inclusion is no longer a topic of discussion because it’s ingrained in our mindset and how we do business.”

Getting there won’t be easy, especially given the size and scope of DENSO’s global footprint. If she could give advice to manufacturers looking to develop a similar mission, Carlson would say not to wait on this and start while your size is manageable.

“When you get to a certain size, coordinating a company-wide change becomes much more difficult,” Carlson acknowledged. “If diversity and inclusion are important to your business, start planting the seeds today. That way, as you grow, it becomes as natural a part of your brand as the products you make.”

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