Founder, Chairman & CEO Of The Piston Group

Vinnie Johnson

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For many people, being a perennial fan favorite with two NBA rings would mark the peak achievement of a lifetime. For Vinnie Johnson, it was just the beginning.

Following his success with the Detroit Pistons, Vinnie took on a new challenge by establishing Piston Automotive in 1995 as a means of creating economic vitality, jobs and opportunity in Detroit. The company quickly established itself as a supplier of choice for major international automotive companies, particularly Ford Motor Company and GM.

Today, Vinnie serves as the Piston Group’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Under his leadership, the Piston Group has expanded from a single facility in Detroit to multiple locations across the Midwest including Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky. Mr. Johnson has led the company through successful joint ventures with industry leading firms such as Lear Corporation, Continental Teves and Sachs Automotive. He has also served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the joint ventures JL Automotive LLC and PASA Modules, LLC.

In addition to his philanthropy and charity work, Mr. Johnson is a member of the Michigan Minority Business Development Council, and the Detroit Chamber of Commerce.

The Pope Francis Center received a five-year, $1 million lead gift from the Piston Group to support a new downtown Detroit day center for the homeless.

The Pope Francis Center, a downtown Detroit day center for the homeless, is developing a new short-term housing complex on Detroit’s northeast side. The center is working with the city of Detroit to identify and assess a location, according to a news release. A capital campaign is underway with a goal of reaching $22 million.

“For 30 years, the Pope Francis Center has been at the forefront of serving the chronically homeless in Detroit,” said Piston Group Chairman and CEO Vinnie Johnson. “While there’s been significant economic rebirth in our city, we cannot forget about those who don’t necessarily see or feel the benefits of Detroit’s economic renewal efforts. And unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated the problems the homeless face on a daily basis.”

Plans for the block-long development of connected buildings call for 40 studio apartments to provide “bridge” housing for 90-120 days, a cafeteria, gymnasium, library, classrooms, a health clinic and heated, outdoor shelter space for those who aren’t ready to go inside.

Jim Vella, founder and CEO of Vella Strategic Philanthropy and a board member with the Pope Francis Center, said in an email that the center has commitments for about a third of the $22 million, or $8 million.

The Pope Francis Center earlier this month moved out of the large tents it’s occupied downtown since March and into the lower level of TCF Center.

“This very generous gift is another example of the Piston Group’s commitment to meeting the needs of the underserved in our city,” said the Rev. Tim McCabe, executive director of the Pope Francis Center. “This center will be a linchpin in the effort to end chronic homelessness in Detroit and our recent move to the TCF Center highlights the urgent need for the services we can provide through it.”

McCabe, calling Johnson “one of the unsung heroes in Detroit,” said in the release, “This support will be critical to the success of the new center and help provide shelter to the homeless for years to come.”

The center’s current services include providing two meals each day, along with access to laundry and shower facilities, basic medical care and housing assistance.

The number of people coming to the center has more than doubled from the roughly 200 people who would typically come to the center’s smaller brick and mortar site downtown each day before the pandemic.

Southfield-based Piston Group — comprising Piston Automotive, Irvin Products, Detroit Thermal Systems and office design studio AIREA — designs, engineers, assembles and manufactures a wide variety of automotive parts and systems.

Piston Group, which employs nearly 10,000 people at more than 20 locations across North America, is No. 6 on the Crain’s Detroit Business list of Private 200 companies, with 2019 revenue of $2.9 billion.

Who We Are

Building Value

Piston Group wasn’t just founded to make things. It was founded with a vision to make things better. And that begins with building better teams solely dedicated to achieving excellence at every level of execution through a combination of experience, expertise, and a deep seeded passion for what we do. Our companies consistently set the standard because our people consistently raise the bar.

We create solutions and breakthroughs. But at the end of the day, what we really create is value. And that has become the purpose that our entire Piston Group family lives and breathes every day — to not just build, but to build value.

Piston Group is a private investment platform founded by industry magnate and NBA champion Vinnie Johnson, to build value by creating, operating and growing world-class manufacturing and design companies. With investments beginning in 1995 and a strong entrepreneurial culture, today’s platform has grown to include Piston Automotive, Irvin Products, Detroit Thermal Systems, and AIREA.
Piston Group world-class manufacturing facilities deliver operational excellence through employee empowerment. Our team of more than 10,000 skilled engineering and manufacturing specialists proudly builds customer value every day.
Each Piston Group company is united by a common passion to build a better tomorrow. Our portfolio includes Piston Automotive, Irvin Products, Detroit Thermal Systems, and AIREA.