Alumnus Mike Thomas Has New Worlds to Conquer

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas

Growing up within a small rural community in nearby Clay County, Mike Thomas was destined to attend Rose-Hulman. Starting at the age of three, his mother told him that he would need a college degree, and that the nearby institution was the ideal place to get it.

"My parents ran a general store. They knew we needed to get a college education," says Thomas, a 1964 mechanical engineering alumnus. His brother, Steve, followed him to Rose-Hulman, graduating in 1973.

Thomas remembers fondly the challenging math and chemistry courses on campus. Succeeding gave him the self-confidence to launch a successful career in the automotive industry.

"The key aspects of a Rose-Hulman education are building confidence and finding something that inspires you so you can hit the ground running," says Thomas, who earned the Rose-Hulman Alumni Association's Honor Alumni Award at this year's homecoming.

Following Rose-Hulman and two years in the Army, Thomas had a rewarding 30-year career at Ford Motor Company, where as director of worldwide automotive planning he led complexity reduction initiatives to improve engineering and manufacturing efficiency. As executive director to USCAR, he led Big Three research collaboration efforts with the government to develop fuel efficiency improvement technologies. And, he led China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation startup automotive practice in Detroit.

Then, in 2004, Thomas created Automotive Insight to provide extensive automotive industry knowledge, experience, skills, and relationships to produce results in areas of fuel economy, wireless communications for vehicle safety, and new materials.

"We're helping Chinese automotive companies with strategy, technology, engineering, and investments," he says. "We have a half-dozen projects underway. We're bringing engineers from the U.S. over to China. We're very optimistic about the future."

While others his age may be retiring, Thomas is looking for new worlds to conquer.

"It's the reward of taking on new challenges and pursuing new chapters," he says. "I see young Rose-Hulman graduates in industry, and they're not afraid to tackle new things. They know how to solve problems."

After working in Brazil and traveling to Asia, Europe, and South America, Thomas is a strong advocate of Rose-Hulman's Strategic Plan and its call to provide each student with a meaningful international experience.

"Rose-Hulmman recognizes the value of diversity," says Thomas, an emeriti member of the institute's Board of Trustees. He points out 48 incoming freshmen are from China. "The student body, faculty, and staff are more diverse than any time in our history, and that's a great achievement."