Dan Milot works for ZF, where he is Senior VP Brake Engineering; Active Safety Division. Earlier this year he spoke with The BRAKE Report about ZF’s Integrated Brake Control (IBC). In this Q&A he discusses his responsibilities and leadership philosophy. (Read more Leadership Spotlights here.)
What is your current role and area of responsibility?
In the new year I am moving into a role where I will be responsible for all of brake engineering globally for the Active Safety Division. In this role I will oversee all the engineering activities that are associated with supporting the product lines of foundation brakes/EPB and brake controls (ESC, IBC, actuation, etc.).
For the past six years, I have been responsible primarily for customer engineering, which entails the application engineering associated with our launch programs. I was also the lead for the development and launch of our first introduction of our Integrated Brake Control (IBC). It launched this past summer on the GM Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks.
How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked so well for you?
I strive to have more of a servant leadership style where I see myself as the coach of the team where I foster and encourage communication, trust building, and skill development within the team (whatever size that may be). I believe that my role as a leader is to assist the employees that I have the privilege to manage in achieving their full potential within the context of their assignments.
The result of this leadership method has been a winning team. I also strongly believe that building and maintaining trust within the team is a key attribute to success. You are not a leader without followers, and you only obtain true followers from those who trust you.
What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?
One of the biggest challenges right now is finding the right engineering talent with the appropriate skill sets for the changing automotive industry. As we move more into electrification, autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, integrated systems, etc., the need for engineers that really understand systems engineering, safety engineering, software engineering, electronics engineering and who have a strong mathematical background and a propensity for leading is key for us.
We are not only competing with other companies in our industry, but other adjacent industries that are looking for similar skill sets.
Keeping strong talent in Michigan and our other global locations is a must for the future of our industry.
Keeping strong talent in Michigan and our other global locations is a must for the future of our industry.Dan Milot
What do you look for when evaluating and adding top personnel?
I am generally looking for someone who has a track record of understanding the big picture and driving results within a team structure. We can typically train someone about our specific technologies, but having the ability to drive a team with successful results where the challenges are significant (or be a significant contributor within the team that leads to others being successful as well) is something that is more innate and harder to find.
Today’s environment requires the ability to work across boundaries in a global matrix where agile methods are being employed to manage a program. This drives uncertainty into daily activities that needs to be accepted. Those that can accept and move forward in this environment are the ones that I am seeking.
What was your first job in the automotive industry?
I initially worked for a company doing electronic controls for advanced engine development. Primarily my role was to work on the electronics side developing the circuitry for the use-case-specific hardware. I also focused on the controls aspect, which primarily dealt with signal processing and pattern recognition using rudimentary electronics hardware.
What is your favorite thing about working in the brake industry?
The brake industry, although we have specific products that have been around for many, many years, is always changing.
If I look at even what some might consider a simple disc brake caliper, the requirements related to drag for fuel economy, NVH for warranty, and performance for pedal feel are constantly changing, which is driving the need for further innovation. The brake controls side of the picture has been in constant change for the past 25 years from ABS to Traction Control to Vehicle Stability Control to regenerative brake blending to electrification of the actuation systems to autonomous control.
All these areas have driven many new functions and features, which again keeps the job new, fresh, and exciting year to year. I have been fortunate over my career to be able to work on the forefront of these changes within brake controls.
What is the best career advice you have been given?
Be willing to consider “extra-curricular” assignments over and above your current role to develop contacts and enhance your visibility within the organization. Your performance alone will not drive your success; your image (how people see you) and perception (how others see what you are doing) within the organization is as important.
Name your favorite / recent book(s) you have read:
A recent book that was recommended to me that I really enjoyed was To Conquer the Air – The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight by James Tobin. This book really illustrates how someone with ambition, methodical pursuit for knowledge, and some luck along the way can really push the envelope of technology – in this case really creating a disruptive technology that changed the world. This theme should be at the heart of anyone in science or engineering.
What is your favorite quote and why?
I really like the speech given by University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler that’s called “The Team, The Team, The Team.” The message provided in this speech related to working as a team and doing what is necessary for the team to succeed above the individual success – this is key to my thinking every day.
Editor’s note: Read “The Team, The Team, The Team” here.
How do you see the industry evolving over the next 5-10 years and do you have any bold predictions for us?
Over the next decade the automotive industry will definitely move from selling vehicles to individual owners and fleets to something where more companies will be offering mobility services using vehicles that have autonomous capabilities versus human drivers, as we have today with Uber and Lyft. This reality will continue to drive more electronic integration of the chassis systems in the vehicle to increase vehicle safety and reliability/availability. Otherwise, my crystal ball does not provide me any bold predictions to make at this time.
Tell us a something that most people might not know about you or your organization.
Although I work for ZF today, the entity I work for has changed names due to mergers and acquisitions over six times during my 26-year career – Kelsey-Hayes; VarityKelsey-Hayes; LucasVarity; TRW, Inc.; Northrup-Grumman; TRW Automotive; ZF.
What are some ways you relax away from the office?
I spend time following sports (hence the keen focus on the team) and reading. On occasion I enjoy getting away to relax somewhere along the shores of Lake Michigan.