Dennis Kouo

MSE-Mechanical Engineering '09

Chief of Staff to the VP of Fixed Wing Operations

Boeing Defense, Space & Security


Why did you choose the University of Michigan and the Tauber Institute for Global Operations?

I chose the University of Michigan for the strength of academics, its close-knit student community, and its expansive alumni network across the country.  However, what really wowed me about U-M was its emphasis on cross-disciplinary training.  I wanted more out of my degree than sitting in a classroom lecture on engineering mechanics and theory.  Through collaborative programs with Michigan’s many schools, the program allowed me to explore engineering applications in the context of sustainability, product design, and of course, global operations.

How did your experience at Tauber impact your career? Can you describe a Tauber course or project that resonates with you today? What did it teach you?    

My career path has shifted dramatically since my experience with the Tauber Institute.  When I began my graduate studies, I fully intended on completing the PhD track in Mechanical Engineering, with an aim to pursue a career in academia.  However, after my Tauber team project at Steelcase, I began to reconsider my plans.  Our project focused on creating a global sourcing model that would optimize sourcing allocations based on various cost factors.  The project sparked my interest in the complexity of global supply chains, but more importantly, it was a valuable opportunity to apply textbook theory to the “messy” truths of the real-world business environment.  In my current role in Boeing Supply Chain Strategy, it is an experience that I reference quite frequently.

Please outline your career path and current responsibilities.

Upon graduation, I was recruited directly into Boeing’s Operations Leadership Rotation Program, and for the past 6 years I have had the amazing opportunity to explore the Boeing Company in various capacities.  My previous experiences ranged from supporting Program Introduction for the 747-8i to project managing Flight Test Instrumentation activities for the 787 test programs, as well as various management roles in Boeing’s Emergent Manufacturing division.  I currently work with Boeing Defense’s Supply Chain Strategy team as a specialist in international sourcing and I serve as the Enterprise Supplier Management focal for many of Boeing Defense’s strategic global growth initiatives. 

What is your management style or philosophy?

People first.  As a manager, your daily duties and responsibilities can become overwhelming, and the only way to successfully perform your job is to have trust in your team to accomplish each of their duties effectively.  This was the hardest lesson for me to learn personally because of the difficulty in transitioning from a role as an individual contributor, where you are incentivized to outperform your peers, to a manager, where you must focus on enabling each of your team members to be successful.  But what I have learned is that, simply put, the expectation of a good manager is that you properly leverage the strengths of your team – whether you are acting as the coach or the cheerleader. 

What is the biggest challenge your company is currently facing? 

The customers for both the Defense and Commercial sides of our company continue to drive expectations of “more for less”.  This includes modernizing our production system by leveraging new technologies such as additive manufacturing and automation, driving global growth while managing increasing supply chain complexity, and testing the boundaries of innovation to increase value to our customers.  As the company approaches 100 years old, it must be able to redefine its strategy to continue to be the industry leader well into the second century. 

What do you do when you are not working?

I love exploring and trying new things every chance I get.  This past year, I have traveled to Poland, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.  There is so much diversity in this world and amazing food I’m eager to try.  When I am not traveling, I participate in various volunteer activities.  I enjoy volunteering my time teaching STEM activities with local grade-schoolers and I currently sit on the Board of Directors of Paraquad, a St. Louis non-profit organization aimed at empowering people with disabilities. 

But I’d have to say that my favorite hobby is spending quality time at home.  I am lucky enough to be recently married to another U-M alumna, Theresa, and together, we take care of our two dogs Maeby (a Labrador-Sharpei mix) and Mac (a Boston Terrier-Pekinese mix).