David Kneisler

David Kneisler: The Compassionate Problem Solver

Potential product safety issues must be dealt with swiftly and accurately.

For Dana Holding Corporation’s VP of Global Quality, the only thing typical about his workweek is something different every day. New challenges bring new travel destinations, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Michigan Tech alumnus David Kneisler understands that when you slip behind the wheel of your car, you are trusting that the auto manufacturer has gone above and beyond to ensure your safety. He knows that even the smallest problems can have dramatic cost and customer satisfaction implications. For this reason, potential product safety issues must be dealt with swiftly and accurately. As vice president of global quality at Dana Holding Corporation, Kneisler does just that while overseeing the company’s incredibly capable quality systems and technical problem-solving divisions. 

Headquartered in Maumee, OH, Dana is a global leader in supplying technologies that improve efficiency and performance of conventional and alternative-energy vehicle powertrains. The company employs 23,000 people in 25 countries on six continents, generating total sales of $6.6 billion in 2014.

"I learned early on that quality cannot be led or managed from an office. You have to go and see."David Kneisler

Recently passing the 20-year mark with Dana, Kneisler said he’s proud of the progress the company has made in product safety and quality, “both of which are absolute requirements in the automotive industry.”

“Our overall quality, as measured by defective parts per million pieces shipped, is now at world-class levels,” he says. “We have accomplished this by developing a strong continuous improvement culture, backed up by one of the best technical solving teams and education programs in the country. Our strong reputation for our technical problem-solving capabilities has led to our customers approaching us to help solve some of their technical challenges.”

Kneisler earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Michigan Tech in 1983, followed by a Master of Science in Business Administration from the University of Michigan–Flint in 1987.

In addition to overseeing the quality systems and technical problem-solving divisions at Dana, he is the co-chair of the company’s product safety committee, and serves as board chairman of the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), an organization focused on continuous improvement and risk mitigation in quality, supply chain and corporate responsibility. 

Every day brings a new challenge and, sometimes, a new travel destination.

“I learned early on that quality cannot be led or managed from an office. You have to go and see,” he says. “Consequently, I travel a lot.”

A large, and very rewarding aspect of his job involves mentoring and problem solving at Dana plants around the world. A considerable amount of time is also spent visiting customers, assisting with issue resolution face-to-face.

"I cannot overemphasize this point: When we hire, we are looking for people who are problem-solvers... people with strong communication and problem-solving skills go on to provide incredible value to their organizations."David Kneisler

“I’ve developed strong business relationships and many wonderful friendships all over the world,” he says. “My best friends list extends to China, Thailand, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK.”

A non-traditional route

As with many incoming first-year students, zeroing in on a major was Kneisler’s biggest challenge. He enrolled in chemical engineering, and by his second year, transferred to the School of Business and Economics to follow his passion for business and computers. It was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“The management science program allowed me to study topics that really mattered to me, including programming, computer simulation, statistics, operations management and economics,” he says. “In retrospect, it should have been easy to predict that I would find a path that would include both business and computers. Anything computer-related always had my attention. Importantly, with the shift to subjects that were relevant to me, ‘work’ became ‘fun.’ Not surprisingly, this was reflected in my GPA.”

High school laid the groundwork for college success

As a child, Kneisler grew up in Beverly Hills, MI, and attended Birmingham Brother Rice High School. It was there he received an outstanding college preparatory education that placed strong emphasis in math, science and English. His father, who graduated from Michigan Tech in 1951 with a mechanical engineering degree, was his greatest influence and the reason Kneisler kept Tech on his short list.

“My dad has always spoken fondly of his days there, and it was easy to see that he received a top-notch education,” he says.

Kneisler signed up for a civil engineering experience in Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Program. It was his first real taste of campus life, and he was hooked.

“Honestly, that program had a significant influence in my final decision to attend Michigan Tech,” he says. “I loved the campus, and thoroughly enjoyed the program.”

Working his way up to the proverbial corporate ladder

Kneisler’s career in the automotive industry began at General Motors, holding positions in information systems, finance, marketing, and strategic planning. Afterward, he spent seven years with TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Inc., working in technical sales and program management. At Echlin, he was hired in as director of program management leading significant company growth. It wasn’t long before his problem-solving skills were put to the test.

“We faced difficult operational challenges, one of which was poor product quality. I remember approaching the group president with my concerns, as our customers were clearly not satisfied with our performance,” he says. “A few days later, he asked me to take on the quality role for one business, which eventually led to a group quality role.”

Dana acquired Echlin in the late 90s, and Kneisler quickly moved up the corporate ladder to become group quality director for Dana’s engine and fluid management group. He was promoted to lead the quality function for Dana’s automotive systems group, then again to his current position.

Mentoring the next generation of quality leaders

For Kneisler, there is nothing more rewarding than the “aha” moment when teaching a new skill or a nuance on how to approach a particularly challenging situation. He credits Michigan Tech for establishing his ever-growing problem-solving and communication skills. While Michigan Tech was tough and required buckling down, hard work is what builds both skills and character.

“I cannot overemphasize this point: When we hire, we are looking for people who are problem-solvers,” he says. “My experience is that people with strong communication and problem-solving skills go on to provide incredible value to their organizations.”

Speaking from experience, Kneisler advises students to not only study a topic they are passionate about, but to work hard and make time to have some fun along the way. Students who love what they do have the basis for both a great career and fulfilling life.

“A solid work ethic is critical for both personal and professional success,” he said. “When you find a way to keep those priorities in order and still keep the boss happy, you’ll be in a good place. Be intentional, and schedule a break now and then.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.