Why Consistency Is Key for Nissan

In an industry awash in evolving consumer demands, Nissan North America’s Heath Holtz says success is being consistent for your team and delivering safe, quality, and innovative products on a daily basis

Nissan's manufacturing and operations plants continue to spur innovation. That includes making vehicle parts traceable, 3-D printing, and collaborative robotics.
Heath Holtz, Nissan North America

Today’s leaders know that successfully managing multinational teams is about going beyond your comfort zone. As the senior vice president of manufacturing, supply chain management, and purchasing at Nissan North America, Heath Holtz knows it better than most.

“I grew up in Nashport, Ohio, but over the course of the past ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to live and work all over the world,” Holtz says. “I consider myself very fortunate to have managed teams in England, Japan, Russia, Spain, and beyond.”

Those global experiences have more than shaped him. From honing various managerial skills to gaining insight into how different cultures utilize different processes to run the most efficient team he can, Holtz says his leadership style is an amalgamation of intercontinental lessons.

“As an example, some cultures manage with a very regimented, governance-style process,” he explains. “You put teams together based on certain critical skills to attack and address problems. On the other hand, other cultures are a bit more all-hands-on-deck with less structure. But you can merge those two things together based on the types of problems you have in front of you.”

Taking that hybrid approach is a great way to instill best practices in your team, and that’s particularly important to Holtz—and Nissan—as the company moves into new territory in 2018. Not least among them is production for the all-new, electric Nissan LEAF, which is underway at the Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant in Tennessee.

Holtz calls the new model particularly exciting not only because the company has a battery production plant right behind the auto manufacturing facility, but also because the updated LEAF—which was originally introduced in 2011 and has been produced in the US since 2013—is poised to bring even more customers to the brand thanks to its new technology updates. One of those updates is the e-pedal, which allows drivers to use one pedal to accelerate and brake. Another is the ProPilot Assist, which is a self-driving system that allows the vehicle to control its speed, its distance from other vehicles, and its ability to stay in its lane with minimal input from the driver.

“The technology is coming out of this plant, so it generates a lot of pride,” Holtz says. “We’re looking at other technologies in terms of fuel efficiency, safety, and more to drive our overall portfolio of offerings to the customer.”

Nissan’s commitment to improved technology and improved effects on the environment doesn’t stop with automobiles, either. Holtz says Nissan is getting more technical—and green—on the manufacturing supply chain, too.

“What we’re doing within plants and operations is looking at how we can continue to spur innovation,” he says. “That might mean making vehicle parts traceable at any part of manufacturing, 3-D printing, collaborative robotics, and even making plants completely paperless.”

These aren’t starry-eyed ideas, either. They’re already being put into practice. Holtz notes that supervisors previously had to work through 30–40 documents a day. Now, they’re working on tablet computers. In 3-D printing, production aids are made in a matter of minutes to prevent scratching and other damages on vehicle parts that are still being designed. Some Nissan factories have as many as 1,200 robots that are collecting data on movement, torque, heat, and vibration for the company to assess and proactively address potential breakdowns.

This technology is at work every day in Nissan plants around the world. It allows Holtz to quickly contact, say, Japan, if a particular model is posing a problem and immediately identify how to solve it. Although his team is scattered around the globe, Holtz says his leadership style wouldn’t be any different if they were all gathered in one room.

“True leaders have a vision,” he says. “You have to be consistent. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to see change—I try to make change where needed—but your demeanor and behavior needs to consistent so as not to induce panic.”

A major aspect of maintaining a calm and steady ship, Holtz says, is letting your team know everyone has the power and capacity to make change.

“The best way to accelerate the performance of a team is to ensure everyone is engaged and feels the power to contribute,” he says. “Your job as a leader is to provide resources and support for your team. Your job is to make everyone else effective.”

Given the changes underway not only in the automotive industry but also at Nissan itself, it’s safe to say Holtz is succeeding in his role. In an industry that has to be able to anticipate and react to the ever-changing demands of the customer, some level of consistency is important. No matter what changes come, Holtz says he still loves the same thing he did when he first came into the industry.

“I love seeing cars come off the line or producing an engine every single day,” he says. “Seeing the impact it has on the people in your team and the pride they have in what they do and the company—that’s what gets me up in the morning.” 

Photo: Kyle Thigpen