As the acclaimed sixth man for the 1989/1990 NBA champion, Detroit Pistons, Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson has always made a huge impact on the court. Now he is making noise in a completely different league: the automotive industry.
Johnson is the head of the Detroit-based auto parts business, Piston Group, that is aligned to become a major player in the global vehicle program business. The Piston Group, a certified minority business enterprise (MBE), recently purchased Irvin Automotive Products, an interior trim and seating manufacturer, for a reported $175 million. This deal puts Johnson into the “major league” of the automotive manufacturing industry.
Johnson credits his athletic background in the success of his business. “My entire career in sports, I was willing to make adjustments,” said Johnson. “I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at.”
Since the Irvin acquisition, The Piston Group’s employment has skyrocketed from 1,300 employees to nearly 8,500 across fifteen plants across North America. However, Johnson is looking to further expand the company across national lines. “Our customers are saying we have to be global if we want to compete,” Johnson said. “We’ve been looking at China — we have a couple of opportunities with Ford over there — as well as at Europe.”
After Johnson’s retirement from the NBA, he began his entrepreneurial endeavors in the packaging industry. However, he switched to the automotive industry after discussions with the vice president of global purchasing for GM, Harold Kutner, and has not looked back since.
Johnson’s athlete mentality and financial prowess has launch the Piston Group into the top 75 biggest auto suppliers in the world. He credits a strong executive board, led by CFO Amit Singhi, as his “bench” players.
While he acknowledges the advantage of being a minority business enterprise, Johnson credits the success to seizing opportunity and business savvy. “We didn’t get to this point with handouts. We earned it. Once you get an opportunity, it’s up to you to show that you can deliver on everything you say. You have to go out and develop a reputation, and all of a sudden people are calling you.”