John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award
“The success of the business is reflected in the capabilities of the people working here,” says John C. Kennedy.
The key to growing those capabilities, both for the business and the individual, has been John’s passion for the underserved. As president and CEO of Autocam Corporation, John knows quite a bit about being an underdog and finding success. In its 25 years with John at the helm, Autocam went from barely afloat to a leading global automotive supplier and the only company supplying in North and South America, Europe and Asia simultaneously. While he has achieved great success in business, John wants to ensure the growth of the manufacturing industry and believes he knows the solution.
“Education is the great equalizer,” he says. “Everyone should have the opportunity to get an education that allows them to be competitive.”
For John, unknown future technology is pushing the need for education even higher. “It’s about preparing for the unknown. We need to improve skills and give students the experiences that allow them to adapt and relate to whatever new technology comes along,” John states.
Frustrated with the K-12 system, John looked for ways he could be part of changing it. As Autocam’s international business grew, John had opportunities to see apprenticeship programs in many European companies and took inspiration from their successful methods. Combining proven training methods with a focus on improving manufacturing’s image, John has seen great success on all levels. Autocam Corporation remains a staple of the vibrant, growing Grand Rapids and West Michigan communities — highly regarded for providing above-average pay, great health care benefits and training opportunities for employees.
Education is more than training opportunities for John, it is also an opportunity to change the conversation about manufacturing careers. Kennedy has been known to invite high school counselors, teachers and superintendents to tour his facilities. Showcasing a positive and high-tech view of the manufacturing industry, John has seen many educators stunned by the opportunities available to students with a career in manufacturing.
John is a true leader in the world of manufacturing education and closing the talent gap in Michigan. He has established partnerships with other executives to pool funding and resources to support multiple academic programs. John’s involvement in many of West Michigan’s greatest educational assets — including Grand Rapids University Prep, Talent 2025 and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership – symbolize his commitment to the education of young people across our state.
Grand Rapids University Prep works with students to provide them with the tools and knowledge to pursue the fields they show interest in as early as sixth grade. Advocating the benefits of job shadowing, cooperative opportunities and hands-on learning, the academy has seen incredible success in its first graduating class.
Talent 2025 is a coalition of more than 60 executives from across West Michigan who have focused their community endeavors on meeting Michigan’s workforce needs in 2025.
The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) seeks to promote the availability of advanced manufacturing jobs to interested K-12 students. Together with businesses throughout West Michigan, AMP has the resources needed to solve the state’s jobs and talent crisis.
“The great part about this is that we’re serving a population that is under served, we’re involving all the businesses in town to take an active role in our children’s lives,” John says.
Because of his continuing hard work and his commitment to both our industry and to the community, we celebrate John C. Kennedy with the 2013 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Large Tier Award.