Donovan Pierce’s Career Journey: Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

  • Donovan Pierce

“You have no idea what you are capable of until you try.”

Donovan Pierce, a 20-year DENSO employee, has advice for others considering the next step in their career journey.

“Don’t limit yourself with doubts or worries about lack of experience. If you face new challenges with a positive attitude and a strong work ethic, you will be successful,” he said.

And he should know. After nearly two decades in manufacturing, serving in roles from team leader to director at DENSO’s manufacturing facility in Athens, Tennessee, Donovan seized an opportunity to try a new focus area: production control (PC) logistics. This functional group is responsible for supply chain management, from ordering parts to scheduling customer deliveries. Along with a move out of manufacturing, Donovan also broadened his scope to include teams at DENSO’s manufacturing locations in Statesville, North Carolina, and Maryville, Tennessee, in addition to those he led in Athens.

Big Change – Same Skills

After 20 years, change wasn’t easy, but Donovan had learned a lot.

“My long history in manufacturing equipped me with experiences and skills that were transferrable to my new role,” he said. “It sounds simple, but being successful in any leadership role, regardless of which group you are a part of, directly relates to your ability to listen to and engage with associates to understand and help fix the problems they are facing. Although my role had changed, this basic approach to leadership was the same.”

And while those manufacturing roles taught him a lot, it was taking on the PC Logistics role where he grew the most as a leader. As a new arrival to PC Logistics, Donovan found himself in uncharted territory, working to absorb as much new information as possible. He, like the rest of the automotive industry, also found himself dealing with one of the most disrupted supply chains in history, with challenges ranging from vessel delays to container shortages and space limitations to supplier capacity constraints after Covid.

Donovan put his trust in the people he led.

“In manufacturing, I worked closely with PC Logistics, but I never truly grasped the level of challenge they faced or how well they handled those challenges,” he said. “I found myself surrounded by incredibly talented folks who were dealing with very complex issues.”

As he spent time at each site, trust within the groups began to build, as did his confidence and influence.

“We quickly realized that although each team was facing different problems, the necessary solutions were similar and could be achieved faster by sharing resources between affiliate locations,” Donovan said. “I was surprised by how quickly our group began operating as one big regional team! It happened somewhat organically and was really nice to be a part of.” 

  • Donovan Pierce

Key to Success

Donovan said genuine humility was essential.

“There was no pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. The entire team knew that I was the new guy with no supply chain background,” he said.

Humility, and recognizing that he was not the subject matter expert, was balanced by knowing he still brought value through his different career experiences.

  • Donovan Pierce

“In order to succeed, I decided that I needed to be very intentional about building relationships with team members at each location,” Donovan said.  “I genuinely wanted to help each team. So, I traveled a lot, listened intently to what their challenges were, and when I understood their issues, took action. I helped PC Logistics better understand the manufacturing team’s challenges and even shared some of what I was learning in PC Logistics with my manufacturing colleagues as well,” he said.

All of this increased Donovan’s confidence.

“After moving into a completely different role and managing teams spread out across the south sub-region, I really feel like I could move into any function at DENSO to learn, grow and contribute,” said Donovan.

His Next Adventure

Donovan is challenging himself with another new role as vice president of manufacturing at DENSO in Athens, starting January 2023. And while there will be discomfort, his career advice to others is this, “Being uncomfortable doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Instead, use it as a springboard to develop your own skill and leadership ability.”