Kevin Vliet

Senior Director, Data Center Engineering


University of Michigan, BSE Industrial & Operation Engineering, 1992

University of Michigan, MSE Industrial & Systems Engineering, 2001


My professional career started in the auto industry in 1993 working as an industrial engineer at Ford Motor Company’s most highly automated parts manufacturing plants. I had just received my Bachelor’s degree in Industrial & Operations Engineering (IOE) and was excited to use the theoretical concepts I had learned in school on real life engineering problems. After just a couple of years working at the plant, I applied and was accepted to the Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan in Dearborn where I studied Industrial & Systems Engineering. I rotated through four more assignments at Ford while attending graduate school after work. One year I worked on the midnight shift at the plant as a production supervisor which required me to attend night school before work making an already long day even more challenging. Eventually, the hard work and effort put into my graduate school education in ISE paid off. This academic achievement helped land me a permanent role at headquarters working as a Sr. Operations Engineer on a small team of technical experts using advanced industrial engineering methodologies to solve complex manufacturing system problems. This role allowed me to hone my skills to a level of expertise that eventually led to my appointment to a Manufacturing Technical Fellow of Operations Engineering. I spent 13 years in the automotive industry before deciding to move on to new challenges that I never imagined I would encounter. I spent 8 years at Amazon in Seattle designing, implementing and scaling its massive retail fulfillment network around the world. That was followed by a move to Silicon Valley where I spent 3.5 years building the Material Flow Engineering Department at Tesla and implementing game-changing automated material delivery systems at Tesla’s cutting edge factories in California and Europe. In 2016, I was tapped by the new Chief Supply Chain Officer at Target (a former Amazon leader I had worked with) for a startup in the Silicon Valley office of the Supply Chain Engineering department. There I recruited fresh talent and brought high-tech automation capabilities to help transform the company’s distribution and fulfillment network. I am now at Google learning about the technical infrastructure that drives the internet and reimagining the design and operation of Google data centers. I have been privileged to work at some of the most successful and innovative companies in the world.

How does your Master’s degree differentiate you from others?

My career journey has been extraordinary, enabled by my graduate-level engineering education, hard work and a constant curiosity to learn new things. It is doubtful that I could have done so much without a Masters degree and no other field other than industrial engineering could have opened doors for me into such diverse industries and exciting companies.

Reflection on Time Spent at U-M

I have been a member of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) for 30 consecutive years. I have supported the students of the profession by giving guest lectures in IE graduate courses, speaking at student career forums and mentoring several undergraduate and graduate IE students and young professionals. In 2018, I received the IISE Fellow Award which, “recognizes outstanding leaders of the profession who have made significant, nationally recognized contributions to industrial and systems engineering”. I have been actively involved with MHI, the trade organization of the supply chain equipment and services industry, and I served as an official member of the Forbes Technology Council. My advice to any student is to politely listen to the wishes and desires of others, but then go pursue your own interests, whatever they may be, and you will have so much more fun working in the future doing the things you are passionate about, yet always be open and curious to learn new things along the way.