How Sidney Johnson and Aptiv are Reimagining Mobility

Sidney Johnson explains how a company transformation and changes in the traditional supply chain are putting Aptiv at the forefront of technological advancements

Picture for a moment a crowded, urban city. The flickering street lights illuminate the winding roads of congestion, traffic, and unexpected construction that only add to the complexity of going from point A to point B. But this is a city where mobility and environment work hand in hand. Sensors communicate with vehicles, and cars communicate with one another as vast amounts of data are being processed in seconds so that they can smoothly navigate the journey.

This is a smart city, or a connected mobility ecosystem. It’s not science fiction. It’s the next frontier beyond autonomous vehicles.

Sidney Johnson, Aptiv

To make that world a reality, the traditional supply chain must be reconfigured. Enter Sidney Johnson, senior vice president of supply chain management for Aptiv, an international technology company that is at the forefront of the future of mobility.

But to understand how this future of smart cities could look, one needs to go back to 2017, when automotive supplier Delphi Automotive announced a spin-off of its Powertrain Systems segment. That company would be named Delphi Technologies, and Delphi Automotive would be rebranded into Aptiv. “As Aptiv, we determined that our future would be focused on safe, green, and connected technologies. That’s what our transformation was about,” Johnson says.

The spin-off was finalized in 2017, but reshaping the company’s identity as a technology company focused on mobility solutions had been in the works years before. “We’re not walking away from automotive. Instead, we’re expanding automotive more into a discussion around mobility,” Johnson explains. “It’s not just the vehicle itself. It is the ecosystem around a vehicle that is characterized as mobility. Our focus is on the technology that enables that ecosystem to thrive.”

In the example of smart cities, the traditional vertical supply chain would call for the shipment of software from a technology company, then supplies from an automotive company, and then equipment from a cellular company to combine all the elements for this new urban scenario. However, Johnson says that in the mobility world, the supply chain functions more as a partnership. Instead of supplies going in a chronological order from company A to company B, etc., the businesses are able to supply materials as one collective unit to benefit the consumer.

“It is a collection of companies building an ecosystem that allows for a city to put in mobility on demand,” Johnson explains. “Imagine a city that has autonomous transportation, where people are jumping on, jumping off wherever they want, within a square mile within an urban center. That’s mobility on demand.” That technology also creates improvements in safety and is better for the environment, because more mobility cuts down on traffic, which reduces carbon emissions, Johnson adds.

That type of supply chain efficiency isn’t easy, though. Shipments have to be spot on, especially for a multibillion-dollar company such as Aptiv, which delivers software capabilities and computing platforms to make mobility easier for consumers. It’s a highly complex operation that includes shipping nearly ninety million assemblies and about three hundred million pieces of material every day around the world.

“When there are actual trouble spots in the supply chain, particularly in an operations perspective, I understand better than others what the challenges are to get back on track,” Johnson says. “The movement of product around the globe is probably one of the most complex areas of any business. It is a very data-driven operation. It is one of those areas that differentiates the best of the best from just the good.”

And it’s that type of dedication that his peers are taking notice of. “Bartech has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with a true innovator in supply chain in Sidney Johnson. His dedication to process excellence and his progressive approach to supplier relationship management have delivered truly phenomenal outcomes for Aptiv and their supplier ecosystem,” says Brian Salkowski, president of Bartech Managed Services. “Through our partnership, Aptiv has become a standard bearer for what is possible in global, contingent workforce management.”

Earning High Honors

Aptiv, formerly known as Delphi, has been recognized since 2010 both for its technological advancements and its focus on the environment and community by earning nearly twenty-five prestigious awards. Some of its most recent awards include:

• 2011: Aptiv was recognized by the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council for leadership and commitment to the growth and development of the minority supplier community

• 2015: Aptiv was recognized by Gartner, Inc., as third on its list of top twenty-five automotive supply chain organizations in the world

• 2015: Delphi China was honored with the Green Supply Chain Award by Asia’s leading professional supply chain organization, the Global Supply Chain Council

It’s also because of this that Johnson leads with an adage to keep it simple and not overcomplicate tasks. He’s a firm believer that people work for people, and without hesitation he praises his team for their tireless work ethic. Part of ensuring that the company transformation was successful and that operations went uninterrupted was the result of the Lean methodology, which Johnson and Aptiv lead by from an operations perspective. Part of that methodology, which consists of five principles, is the ability to have the right parts in the right place at the right time with built-in quality and short lead times. It is a major competitive advantage, Johnson says.

“The transformation within my area was focused around simplifying and aligning my organization around the new business realities,” Johnson says. “It was around continuing the implementation of our Lean principles. It involved putting in processes that enabled greater supplier involvement in our new product development. It was optimizing our supply base—so making sure that we had the right size supply base in the right locations to align with the new business. And at the same time, I was integrating the logistics organization into the procured organization.”

And in that time, Coficab CEO Hichem Elloumi says partnering with Johnson has been a tremendous source of inspiration. “His vision led the transformation of the supply chain world into a smart ecosystem powered by passion and driven by technology and innovation,” Elloumi says.

The change in focus from automotive to technology will still include some of the basic foundations that Aptiv is accustomed to. But what will change is the portfolio. Instead of mechanics, the supply will shift to electronics and silicon. Personnel and the supply base will continue to evolve, and the relationship management of the supply base will change because, in the tech industry, the traditional customer-supplier relationship is more of a partnership, Johnson explains. “You typically have a very vertical supply chain within the automotive space from OEM to tier one to tier two companies, etc.,” Johnson says. “Whereas in the tech/mobility solution space, it’s really more of an ecosystem.”

That transformation plan is never finished; it just evolves. From 2005 to 2009, when the transformation plan was being put into effect, Johnson says it was a time used to transform the organization to better align with business realities. That has allowed Aptiv to deliver directly to the consumer, whether it’s providing connected technology, innovating new mobility solutions with computing platforms and AI, or partnering with other top companies to spearhead the next frontier in smart cities.

Photos: Sylvain Munsch

Off the Clock with Sidney Johnson

During his thirty-year career at Aptiv focusing on one of the most complex areas of supply chain management, Sidney Johnson has always found time to give back to and mentor others.

In fact, Johnson admits his main passion outside of work is giving back, particularly to underserved communities.

For several years, Johnson has been involved with the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Currently serving as the vice chair for the board of directors, Johnson has been focused on the organization’s mission of certifying, developing, connecting, and advocating for diversity, women, and veteran-owned businesses.

He also serves in an advisory role with the International Trade Center (ITC), which is based in Geneva, Switzerland. As a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, the ITC fosters inclusive and sustainable economic developments to support small and medium-sized enterprises.

Since being established in 1964, the organization has helped those in underserved economies by raising incomes and creating job opportunities.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life and in my career to have attained the level of success I have, personally and professionally,” Johnson says. “I grew up in an environment where giving has always been a part of our household. It was believed that you certainly should give more than you take.”

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