Three Countries, Three Product Lines, One DENSO: Keith Plemons’ Career Journey
Keith Plemons is not afraid of change. Since starting as a production engineer in 1999 in the fuel injector business at DENSO’s manufacturing facility in Athens, Tennessee, he’s worked on multiple products in three countries. Was this his original plan? Not really.
“When I started, my goal was to be a manager, eventually being a leader within engineering,” Keith said. “While working in Japan in 2002, I found mentors who provided valuable 1:1 coaching and helped me identify future opportunities as well as what I needed to do to achieve them.”
Keith continued to have 1:1 coaching throughout his career and, in 2014, was selected to participate in the regional leadership development program (RLDP), now known as Inspire.
“After completing RLDP, I started thinking about not only where I wanted to be in the next four to five years, but where can I make the biggest contribution to the company,” he said.
A Career of Contributing
In 2002, Keith spent 10 months on assignment in Japan, tasked with learning about the next generation fuel injector so he could help bring the product to North America. When he returned to the U.S., he spent the next four years establishing four injector production lines in Athens.
That experience resulted in him being tapped to go to Hungary in 2005 to train local engineers and help launch the injector process there.
“Hungary was a different experience than my time in Japan,” Keith said. “In Hungary I was the teacher, not the student. But in both roles, I developed valuable relationships I still maintain and use today. Though we are One DENSO, there’s uniqueness in each location and process. Seeing this helps expand your understanding and view of what DENSO does.”
Keith had spent his entire DENSO career in production engineering, building expertise in the fuel injector business. Then in 2012, Keith reached a turning point. He was asked to serve as an engineering supervisor in spark plugs. Though he’d still be in Athens, it was a completely new product to Keith.
“I had been in fuel injectors for 13 years,” Keith said. “I went from knowing almost everything to knowing nothing, so I really had to focus on listening to the experts. It was scary, but exciting. I learned to really listen and realized that my previous experience was valuable and insightful to my new team.”
Keith also credits having an open mind and outgoing personality with helping him through his career transitions.
“I want to be a member of the team from the beginning – I don’t want to be on the outside looking in,” he said.
The Road to Today
After five years in ignition products, Keith moved back to the gasoline group to manage high-pressure fuel pumps and support the closure of Associated Fuel Pump Systems Corporation (AFCO), facilitating the transfer of fuel pump products from AFCO to Athens in 2019.
Keith’s most recent career move took him to DENSO’s manufacturing facility in Statesville, North Carolina. In 2021, he started a new role as Director of Manufacturing, supporting the launch of dual drive assist (DDA2) and working to merge the history and strengths of the location, formerly known as ASMO, a DENSO consolidated subsidiary, with DENSO’s culture.
“For this move, I was comfortable from a work perspective, it’s like starting a new job without really leaving your job,” Keith said. “At first, a change may feel and look scary, but if you have a willingness to try something different and understand what leadership is trying to do, you’ll be amazed at the opportunities you have.”