Kettering graduate helps Ford’s Research and Innovation Center flourish in Silicon Valley

Chuck Nagi ‘82 has followed the mentality throughout his career that if he continues to do what he loves, the rest will fall into place.

An electrical engineer by trade, Nagi has followed a more unique path in his career with Ford Motor Company. Nagi, User Experience Team Leader, returned to Michigan at the beginning of the year after spending the past four years in Silicon Valley helping grow Ford’s Research and Innovation Center.

The center in Palo Alto, Calif., started off as a very small operation with five people when Nagi arrived in 2014. It grew to 20 people by end of 2014, and then grew rapidly from there, he said. This past November, the team of more than 200 people was split between two buildings.

“Never would I have believed it coming from Kettering University with an Electrical Engineering degree that I would be defining requirements for a facility space and growing operations for Ford while diving in and seeing all the technology the company was working on in Silicon Valley,” Nagi said. “I’m honored that Ford had entrusted me as Operations Manager to get that office up and running.”

The Research and Innovation Center and the team there focused on five pillars of activity: connectivity, mobility solutions, customer experience, autonomous vehicles and data analytics.

Ford is looking at selling vehicles, but the company also is looking at mobility solutions in communities where cars can’t be sold because of city restrictions or where ride sharing and leveraging public transportation systems are better options, Nagi said.  

Nagi spent 16 years at General Motors and 24 years at Ford and watching the evolution of the auto industry has been exciting, he said. Spending time in Silicon Valley with fast paced technology development was a great learning experience, as well. While in Palo Alto, Nagi met with technology developers and entrepreneurs with startups that Ford could potentially partner with.

“I’ve been really thrilled to be a part of that,” Nagi said. “In my role, I helped with startup accelerators and acted as a broker to engage with companies to match with certain technologies. I really was able to be in the heart of it, and explore and expand our university programs, as well. There’s a lot happening in Silicon Valley and it’s great to be a part of it. It was pretty tremendous leveraging all my skills and abilities.”

When Nagi arrived in California, the Research and Innovation Center team had one project area. When he left this past year, there were five major project areas.

“We were able to collaborate very effectively and the intent was to have quick project development,” Nagi said. “Over my career it was interesting in the sense that you still have mechanical systems, but the move to electro-mechanical, then electrical systems and software evolved quickly. During my time in California we were able to really speed up the development process as we used software to help make modifications to the systems."

Chuck Nagi

Now that Nagi is back in Michigan, he is preparing to get back to his roots with electrical engineering.

“I really enjoy engineering and being able to come up with new ideas. I’m happy to have more opportunities to get back into the engineering side of the business, but it’s always important to be well rounded in this industry,” Nagi said.

Being well-rounded also was something Nagi took away from his time at Kettering University. The course load, the co-op experience and his senior thesis taught him hard work and pushed him to further his education after Kettering. He earned a master’s degree in Systems Engineering.

“Kettering gave me work experience right away. And with having two and half years of job experience and getting exposed to a large automotive company like GM was a great thing. Kettering just offered so much at the time. The skills learned at Kettering were a stepping stone to want to do even more,” Nagi said.

He was involved in Greek Life at Kettering, the Management Honor Society and Student Tech Club, all of which helped him develop his leadership and organizational skills. Nagi believes that strong foundation led him to his supervisor and leadership roles at Ford.

His time at Kettering was a positive one that set him on a path to success in his career. Nagi’s advice to Kettering students or young graduates is to simply do what they love to do.

“With any job you have your ups and downs, things you have to do in addition to the things you like to do. Do what you love and the rest will fall into place,” he said, adding one more piece of advice. “Along the way try to treat people well and that will come back to help you in ways you can’t imagine.”

Written By Sarah Schuch | Contact: Sarah Schuch - - (810) 762-9639