Career Journey Spotlight: Chris Wisniewski Applies Past Experience, New Skills to Electrification
The automotive industry is evolving at a rapid pace. To keep up, companies also need to change, which requires flexibility in processes, operations and people. As DENSO looks to where the industry is going, such as with electrification, it wants to work with current team members in applying their skills and knowledge to new products and technology. This is how DENSO will thrive in the mobility industry.
You may be thinking, “If someone’s skills and knowledge are within a specific product or technology, I’m not sure they can be applied to other areas.” But that’s not always the case. Here’s an example – Chris Wisniewski.
When Chris joined DENSO in 1997 as a Production Control Engineering co-op at its thermal manufacturing facility in Battle Creek, Michigan, he had no idea how many twists and turns his career would take. Upon graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, he took a full-time position at DENSO’s North American headquarters in Southfield as a HVAC Design Engineer.
Three years later he transitioned to work on engine cooling modules (ECMs).
“Making the transition from HVAC to ECMs wasn’t too complicated as they were both thermal components with common design processes,” said Chris. But, at that time, there weren’t many transitions between departments, so it was not clear if this was a permanent destination or just one stepping stone.”
A Major Stepping Stone
As it turns out, this was one of many stepping stones. After eight years in ECM, Chris rotated back to the HVAC team for another 11 years, overseeing projects for multiple major automakers.
The next stepping stone provided Chris with big opportunities and challenges. He left his role as a HVAC Director in Southfield to be a Director of Quality Engineering in Battle Creek. The year was 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which added complexity to the move.
“The first six months in my Quality Engineering role were extremely challenging for me because I was learning a new role and addressing specific issues resulting from the pandemic,” said Chris.
But Chris didn’t back down from the challenge. To progress, he realized he needed to be humble about his lack of experience in the plant and the new department.
“In my other transitions, I had a level of product and design knowledge that could carryover, but the move to Quality Engineering was vastly different,” said Chris.
So, he was honest with his team, telling them he would have a learning curve and would be asking many questions as he absorbed what he needed to know for him, the team and supporting departments to be successful. He also had to be honest with himself that the first few months were going to be all about learning department procedures, team members and the related quality problems. In addition, he had to accept that while he was learning, he may not be as productive as he liked. After the first six months, Chris shared the role started to become more comfortable, enjoyable and rewarding.
More recently, Chris helped coordinate a series of 2030 Showcase events designed to highlight the company’s future direction to employees. In November, he brought two electric vehicles to the plant floor, helping team members understand the role of thermal systems in next-generation technology.
Skills and Traits for Success
Chris’ proven success in taking on new roles, his enthusiasm to do whatever was needed to support the company and his natural sense of curiosity prompted his most recent move. This past fall, he left Battle Creek to be Director of Electrified Systems Engineering (ESE) in Southfield, responsible for inverter development for a major automaker. Essential to electric drivetrains, inverters transform and control high-voltage electricity in the vehicle from the battery as direct current (DC) to the motor as alternating current (AC).
Throughout his career, Chris worked on thermal components that had a long development history and have been Kaizened (continuously improved) throughout the years to adapt from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles.
Now, his career path is evolving to components specific to the electrification of vehicle drivetrains, a relatively new area compared to thermal.
“I’m really excited to learn about the electrification of vehicles because it’s rapidly changing, which results in challenges and opportunities,” said Chris. “I’m familiar with the application of low-voltage electronic devices because they are used with HVAC and ECM, but to deeply understand the internal construction and design of high-voltage inverters is a big and exciting challenge for me.”
Chris’ education and engineering skills were essential in his various roles, in addition to collaboration, Kaizen, and being at the Genba (where the work is being done).
“During all my rotations, I took opportunities to meet and collaborate with new groups, departments and business units. This not only helped increase my awareness of what is happening at DENSO, but expanded my DENSO network, which has been an asset to me personally and professionally,” said Chris.
For others who might want to create their own multi-step DENSO career path like Chris, he has this advice, “Be curious, and don’t be afraid of what is behind the door … it could be a door that opens up to many opportunities.”