Believe in Yourself – Dan Okray’s Career Journey

You won’t find Dan Okray taking the easy road – he thrives on challenge. Much of this stems from a rough childhood, full of tough situations and people categorizing him as someone who wouldn’t accomplish much. 

“I was living in government-subsidized housing with a chaotic homelife, including alcoholism and abuse,” Dan said. “I was on a path that would result in most people living a similar life, but I refused to fall into the cycle.”

Dan’s determination kicked in during high school when a counselor told him that “college isn’t for everyone,” insinuating he should look to other avenues. 

“What she didn’t know is I’m often motivated by people telling me I can’t do something. I know I can. Some call it obstinance, I call it grit,” he said.

He proved her wrong, attending college, a decision that would change the trajectory of his life. And while it wasn’t easy, Dan faced and overcame the challenges. 

Kicking off a DENSO Career
In 2002, Dan’s DENSO career began when he was hired as a Production Control Engineering co-op at DENSO’s thermal manufacturing facility in Battle Creek, Michigan. This was his first professional job, previously working as a dishwasher, mover and construction laborer. Nervous and not knowing what to expect, Dan proved himself at DENSO and was hired in 2005 as a HVAC Design Engineer at DENSO’s North American headquarters in Southfield, Michigan. 

Early in his career, Dan focused on mastering his current role and relied on one-on-one meetings with managers to talk about his passions and company opportunities. 

“After a couple of years as a design engineer, I realized that my true passion was on the business side, dealing with negotiations and program financial achievement,” he said.

Sharp Curve Ahead
In 2014, Dan took an exciting next step in his career path that aligned with his passions. He was offered an ex-pat assignment at DENSO Italy. The role was not without challenge, though. Dan would join global program management, moving out of engineering to help launch an HVAC designed in Italy and manufactured in China, Brazil and Mexico. This required a change in mindset – from an individual contributor focused on design to interconnecting every department’s tasks to the bigger picture. 

“I was used to focusing on one piece of the pie, now I was responsible for the entire pie,” Dan said.

DENSO program managers drive key performance indicator (KPI) achievement for designated projects. They coordinate activities between all functional groups, giving detailed attention to planning, collaboration, risk assessment and reporting. Through planning, strategy and negotiating, program managers are responsible for keeping things moving toward successful outcomes. 

The new program manager role activated Dan’s persistence and drive to succeed. He built relationships with team members who were excited to share knowledge and mentor him. He absorbed all the information he could, incorporating his skills and experience to add value to the program, team and organization. 

After two years in Italy, Dan returned to the U.S. with two options— return to Design Engineering or pilot a program management role for new HVAC business. Program management didn’t yet exist for DENSO in North America, but Dan said he felt there was incredible value and benefit in the function. So, he led the way regionally and took on another new challenge. 

Believing in Himself
Today, Dan is Senior Manager, Project Management Office (PMO), with a team of 15 distributed between DENSO’s Southfield and Battle Creek locations. His goal is to advance his career to an executive level, while growing program management throughout the region, across all product lines.

Reflecting on his career to date, Dan said he’s grateful for the opportunities DENSO has provided personally and professionally.  

“When you work in one area for a long time, you only see that side of the organization,” he said. “Moving from engineering to program management opened my eyes to see how and why things are done – it gave me a new perspective and appreciation for the other pieces of the pie. In program management, I get to see the effect of everything from customer quotation to production launch.”

For those considering a career change at DENSO or elsewhere, Dan has one piece of advice – believe in yourself. 
“No one believed I would amount to anything when I was young, but I believed in myself,” he said. “And when I truly believe in something, my persistence and continuous drive for achievement and success kicks in.”