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CEO Spotlight: Detroit Manufacturing Systems’ Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith is the chairman and chief executive officer of Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS). MICHauto spoke with Smith about his priorities and motivations as an automotive executive.

What are you passionate about?
Helping others reach their full potential and succeed at whatever they are passionate about.

What are you grateful for?
I have been incredibly blessed, so I am grateful for so many things. I am most thankful for my family and friends, along with the memories and love we share.

What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
I believe the most successful leaders are gifted at sincerely caring for others while driving excellent performance within their teams.

What advice do you have for the next generation?
I am going to turn this question around and ask “What can we learn from the next generation?” The Millennials are tech-savvy, strive for flexibility, have a hunger for learning, want more vacation time, and believe in working smarter not harder. They also are motivated by meaning, believe in diversity, and want authentic, straight-talk from their employers. I think we can learn a lot from them.

At the same time, they have a higher rate of depression, loneliness, and panic attacks as compared to other generations. My advice to them is to take time to socially connect, in real life and not via your smart phone, with others. Having great relationships is a wonderful antidote to the challenging things that life throws at us.

How do you keep your team motivated in the face of conflicts or obstacles?
At my company, we say “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This prompts us to proactively look for opportunities to learn and improve our performance, individually and collectively, while we face obstacles. At the same time, we deliberately and continually talk about how to drive accountability while simultaneously strengthening our relationships with each other. Along these lines, I and a large cross-section of our leaders are currently having “lunch and learn” sessions where we listen to Brene Brown’s podcast entitled “Armored Versus Daring Leadership” then openly discuss what we’ve learned and how to best apply those lessons.

Lastly, we still look for ways to have fun to help offset the natural stress that arises from working together. For example, we have played cards virtually by holding Euchre and Spades tournaments during the pandemic. In summary, we do a lot to build bridges – and knock down walls – at DMS. We believe that strong bridges between us are fundamental to building trust, and ultimately, the rate at which we improve and sustain performance will always be determined by the level of trust we have in each other.

Where is your favorite vacation spot and why?
I have traveled all over the world and don’t have a favorite spot. However, these places are high on my list: Santorini, Greece; Ha Long Bay, Vietnam; Iceland; Kruger National Park, South Africa; and Prague, Czech Republic. Prague is sentimental because I proposed to my wife there on the Charles Bridge.