COOKEVILLE – When David Johnson came to Tennessee Tech University and started studying civil engineering, he had no idea it would lead to a 20-year career with Nissan North America or his current position as senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain management with the company.
“In my civil engineering background, I did a lot of general infrastructures, and I always had this dream to work for NASA. It was a dream, but I said I was going to go back to school and study aerospace, but as I explored around on what I really wanted to do for NASA, it led me back to Tech,” he said. “It eventually allowed me to work with NASA through research, which eventually propelled me into the automotive space.”
Johnson graduated from Tech in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2002. He went on to receive an executive master’s degree in business from Vanderbilt University.
Now he is passionate about the automotive industry and where the industry is headed. He said that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills play a significant part in driving where the industry is headed in electrification and autonomous attributes.
“We’ve got to start STEM education young; we got to get people hooked on science, technology, engineering, and math. Why? Because it’s cool; it allows you to make things; it allows you to transform technologies to help mankind as we move ahead,” Johnson said. “For me, it’s just the motivation to help make the world a better place to be a part of the technology that is going to drive that; is the reason people should be in STEM.”
When talking about the degree programs that Tech offers in STEM, Johnson said Tech provides the key to success is understanding the practical application of knowledge.
“Tech is not an institution that is heavily based on just giving you theory. It’s how is it applied, how is it applied in a practical sense in the real world so you can go and do something with it,” he said. “You don’t get that in every institution that you go to.”
“Tech is practical. The research that is carried out from Tech, from my experience, is very practical as well, which really positions you great to move into the industry, any industry, to make a positive impact from day one. You already have some of the core skills that are going to help take that classroom learning and turn it into action to make whatever it is you’re working on successful, and a little bit better tomorrow than it was the next day,” he said.
He gained this STEM skillset and has been able to turn it into a lifelong career at Nissan. After having 20 years of experience in global manufacturing, advanced technology and people-centric leadership. Johnson is now responsible for managing all facets of Nissan’s manufacturing and supply chain operation in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“In the automotive industry, one of the things that makes it so great is I can get validation of the team’s efforts every day just by walking across a parking lot. Why? Because our product is there. I can have direct interaction with our customers and see the smile on their faces that they are happy with the product that we pour a lot of energy and time into,” he said. “There is a sense of pride that I just don’t think you can get in mass in the way you get in the automotive industry.”