Goken America scales its infrastructure in the midst of rapid growth


For its first six years, Goken America stayed at about 10 or 20 employees, but because the company had positioned itself well, that all changed when the economy started to recover.

Goken originated in 2004 when President and CEO Doug Smith and his future business partner Tatsunori Nakamura were traveling to one of Honda’s assembly plants to support the launch of a new vehicle. On the ride home, the idea to start Goken was born.

The engineering design and technology company helps its clients — global automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers — design and build better products.

Since 2010, Goken has grown to 250 employees and is trending toward 300.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of growth. Obviously, it’s a really good thing, but it hasn’t been without its pain,” Smith says.

A two-way street

In the first half of the company’s lifespan, Smith and General Manager Bill Nichols managed 20 people in a 1,100-square-foot office.

“We were both there elbow-to-elbow, so we each heard what the other was saying, and we both worked really hard at including the 20 people,” Smith says.

Today, with a bigger workforce and a management staff of roughly 30, that’s more difficult, he says. In addition, Goken is headquartered in Dublin, but has people from Los Angeles to North Carolina and from Detroit all the way to Florida, on occasion.

“It’s important to us that we make them feel part of us, allow them to feel part of us,” Smith says.

The company has invested in its management structure, creating a leadership team with onsite supervisors and assistant managers.

“If we had kept it simple and just wanted to supply knowledge to our clients to help them overcome their problems, we could get by with a lot less. But we’ve chosen to invest in our people and in our management structure to create that culture,” he says. “We don’t want people to come here just for an assignment. We want people to come here for a career.”

Smith, who is focused on the future, sees it as investing ahead, not extra. Part of that investment is a priority on communicating and connecting.

When Smith recognized Goken was transforming from a small company, the first thought was the executive team needed to communicate from the center out.

“It didn’t work all that well. It wasn’t that it was the wrong way to do it. It was that it wasn’t the only way to do it,” he says.