President of the Battle Creek, Mich., thermal manufacturing facility, Denso Corp.
Military branch: Navy
Rank: Petty officer first class
When Kevin Carson was mulling a return to civilian life in 1999 after 11 years in the Navy, entering automotive manufacturing wasn’t top of mind.
But Carson, president of supplier Denso Corp.’s thermal manufacturing plant in Battle Creek, Mich., said he was ultimately drawn to the industry because its fast pace and team-focused work environment reminded him of the military.
“I’m not comparing the two as far as significance or severity of risk,” he said. “What I’m comparing is, they’re very volatile, fast-paced organizations. You have to adapt to change. You need to be flexible. You need to be team-oriented.”
Carson joined Denso in Battle Creek as a team leader overseeing radiator assembly on the factory floor. During the next two decades, he worked his way up to group president, overseeing 2,500 employees. Denso North America’s thermal division supplies air-conditioning and engine-cooling components to automakers.
Carson, who led submarine logistics teams in the Navy, said he frequently draws upon his time in the military while at work, especially as it relates to building a strong team out of a group of individuals from differing backgrounds.
“In the military, I could be on a submarine with people from 40 different states that have varying backgrounds and varying ages, and you’ve got to come together and be one team,” he said. “I think the auto industry is somewhat similar.”
Carson works with the Denso Veterans Network, which raises money and serves as a resource group for former, current and reserve service members.
He said he is proud of the fact about 10 percent of the workers at the Denso Battle Creek plant are veterans, and he urged the auto industry to do more to bring vets into the work force.
“I really implore all of us to take a good look at veterans. It’s not easy leaving the military and coming into civilian life,” he said. “I encourage all of us as employers to open our doors and open our minds to seize the opportunity to hire some really high-character people to make a difference in your organization.”
— John Irwin