Industry Member Spotlight: Piston Group

This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Gordon Fournier, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer, Piston Group

Growing a business in a perfect economy can be difficult and 2020 has hardly offered the best conditions. Yet even now, Piston Group has a profound confidence in its future.

“Detroit and Michigan have faced tough times before; they’ve both been written off and come back stronger,” said Gordon Fournier, Piston Group’s Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer. “There’s a perseverance and a work ethic here that doesn’t allow you to quit or give up and I think the team Vinnie has put together exemplifies that attitude.”

The brainchild of legendary Detroit Piston Vinnie Johnson, Piston Group was founded in 1995 and has become a multi-billion-dollar success story and the largest minority-owned business in Michigan.

Under its umbrella, four businesses thrive:

  • Piston Automotive; one of the automotive industry’s leading Value Add Assembly suppliers and tackling complex assembly projects including powertrain, cooling, electrical and hybrid vehicle battery systems
  • Irvin Products; an experienced innovator of automotive interior technologies and one of North America’s largest independent seat trim manufacturers
  • Detroit Thermal Systems; a manufacturer of high quality climate-control systems and components that utilize state-of-the-art technology
  • AIREA; a renowned leader in commercial interior design and a symbol of Johnson’s demand for diverse customer service across multiple industries

“Piston Group was always going to be successful with Vinnie at the helm. Our success is measured by so much more than revenue numbers or product innovation. It’s built around manufacturing excellence, an energetic team and a charitable vision,” explained Fournier.

New to the company, Fournier started in early March. Within a week, COVID-19 had swept the globe and everything changed.

“There are always going to be unanticipated challenges, but it’s how you face them that determines your future,” Fournier said. “When I came aboard, COVID-19 was a huge curveball that nobody saw coming. We had to put some long-term plans on hold and assess where we were in the short-term. That ability to adapt to the ‘usual unusuals’ of business was an essential part of how we pushed through.”

Coming out of unprecedented shutdowns, Fournier and his team put people first and worked toward solutions to get their team back to work while encouraging manufacturers to “stay confident and steadfast in your capability. Even in bad times — especially in bad times — there are opportunities to build toward success.”

With a future full of possibility, Piston Group is asking itself the important questions that all companies should ask in order to stay energized:

  • How do we grow?
  • How can we grow faster and smarter?
  • How can we further diversify?
  • What does the future of automation look like?
  • What technologies can we capitalize on?
  • What can we aspire to be?

“In the end, we need to ask how we can use the changes brought about by COVID-19 and make them work for our success rather than as a barrier to our success,” said Fournier. “If you can be ahead of the curve, you will find success. That’s what we’re looking to achieve and it’s definitely something any manufacturer can do. Challenge yourself to be great.”