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Delphi Leader Tells Warrington Lecture Crowd that Engagement is Key to Success

By Terri Hughes-Lazell

Being engaged can mean different things to different people. To Kevin Clark, president and CEO of Delphi, it means to think like an owner, not just an employee. It’s an all-in—physically and emotionally.

Having a seat at the table is important to Clark, and has driven the career decisions of the alumnus of Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business—attracting him to the type of corporate culture that embraces this ideal.

“It’s important to me to be helping a business,” said Clark (BA Financial Administration ’84, MBA ‘86). “As CEO, it’s important to leverage the strengths of others on the team, and we are a cohesive group,” he said. “I came in to make a difference and my perspective is a group is more important than an individual.”

Clark shared his business acumen and wisdom with those attending the 2015 Sylvan T. Warrington Lecture in Ethics and Leadership at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business.

“There has been so much change since I was here in the early ‘80s, and the Broad College now has 10,000 more students,” the Broad College alumnus told the crowd. “But change is more than being bigger.”

He explained that when he was a student, personal computers were a novelty and the first mobile phone cost nearly $4,000, plus service fees and minute charges—and data was not part of that phone.

Clark added that music was purchased at record stores and social media was a yearbook or the Yellow Pages.

Today, it is human nature to be in constant connection with others because of technology. And technology is driving change constantly. And big data globalization has an even greater impact, he said.

To be successfully and effectively engaged in today’s global business environment, he suggests:

  • Know your market
  • Know your customer
  • Know your competitors

“Companies that engage and adapt to change, thrive,” he said. An example he gave is Netflix vs. Blockbuster. Netflix adapted to change.

Clark said the consequences of being behind the curve are even more severe today.

“Sixty-five percent of today’s preschoolers will work at a job that doesn’t yet exist,” he said. “Change is faster and more global.”

For Delphi, the transformation came from management that turned around the company from bankruptcy to one of the “most sophisticated technology companies” in the automotive industry, according to Clark. “It’s the biggest comeback success of the last decade,” he said

Faced with a need to reshape the cost structure and better position the company, Delphi came out of Chapter 11 within four years. Today, the global company is focused on identifying the products for automotive with the most potential for growth.

Delphi is focused on safety and driver experience through connectivity. It provides components and fully integrated systems to automotive manufacturers. The company also lays claim to the only coast-to-coast trip in North America for an automated car.

Crossing 20 states and 34,000 miles, the team collected three terabytes of data showing that 99 percent of the time, the car functioned without a driver during the nine-day trip.

But it’s not just driving without a human at the controls—it’s the safety addition that one-half second of reaction time buys, Clark said. It would save 10,000-plus lives, as well as benefiting those who are blind and/or elderly to have transportation readily available to them.

“This is the beginning chapter of this story,” he told the standing-room-only crowd.


Eli Broad College of Business

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