DC Strategic Advisors
About the Firm
Headed by Dennis Cuneo, DC Strategic Advisors is a consulting firm that offers strategic counsel to businesses and organizations in various stages of development. Drawing on Dennis’ extensive experience in both the legal and business realms, DC Strategic Advisors provides expert strategic solutions to clients covering many industries.
The firm has worked on projects with a cumulative investment of over $12 billion that have created over 20k jobs.
About Dennis Cuneo
Dennis Cuneo’s career spans law, business, and economic development.He grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania as the eldest of six children. His first job was in a bakery, where he worked part-time during high school. During college, he held jobs in a powdered metals factory, a dairy company (where he became a Teamster), a machine shop, and as a night watchman. At Kent State, where he earned his MBA, he worked as a counselor and administrator in the residence halls system. In law school, he clerked at two law firms. Upon graduation, was recruited to the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in the Attorney General’s Honor Law Graduate program. While at Justice he worked on cases involving the aluminum industry, the motion picture industry, the natural foods industry and grain processing. For his work, he earned a Special Commendation for Outstanding Service.
After four years at the Justice Department, Dennis was recruited to Arent Fox, a prominent Washington DC law firm, where he worked under Earl Kintner, the former Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and one of the giants in the field of antitrust law. At Arent Fox, Dennis represented clients in food processing, auto parts, auto dealerships, and medicine. His most important client was Toyota, which retained Arent Fox as it was negotiating a joint venture with General Motors to establish its first plant in the United States. Dennis spent a significant amount of time in Japan during the negotiations and was introduced to the Toyota Production System by Fujio Cho, who would later become President and then Chairman of Toyota.
The Toyota-GM joint venture drew significant interest from the media, government regulators, Congress and automotive competitors. The Federal Trade Commission conducted a 14-month investigation before granting its approval, which it described as “one of the most thorough and intensive antitrust reviews in Commission history.” Lee Iacocca, then the Chairman of Chrysler, and Ralph Nader sued to stop the venture from moving forward. Several Congressional committees conducted investigations. The national media closely covered the formation of the joint venture, with numerous stories and editorials in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post. Dennis’ experience at this stage served him well in his later career when he was responsible for legal, corporate communications and governmental affairs for Toyota.
When the joint venture, called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), was formed, Dennis was asked to join the start-up team as its first General Counsel. He worked for Tatsuro Toyoda, the son of the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation, who was NUMMI’s first President and later became President of Toyota. NUMMI took over GM’s former Fremont California plant, which had a militant UAW Local, and a history of confrontational labor relations, low productivity and poor quality. NUMMI hired back the former GM workforce, recognized the UAW, negotiated a new labor agreement, implemented the Toyota Production System, and transformed the plant from one of the worst to one of the best in the country. NUMMI was widely credited as the first successful execution of the Toyota Production System in the U.S., which MIT researchers later dubbed “lean production.” Dennis played a key role in negotiating and implementing the new labor agreement with the UAW, and worked closely with legendary labor mediator, Bill Usery, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor. Dennis also worked with other members of NUMMI management in developing and executing the strategy to transform the plant culture. He was one of first General Counsels in the U.S. to work in an open office environment, and his desk was steps away from the plant floor where he spent a significant amount of time. It was not an uncommon sight to see one of the union committeemen sitting in front of his desk expressing his views about plant management.
NUMMI was the subject of a number of academic and industry studies, the most prominent of which was conducted by MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program. The MIT study culminated in a best-selling book The Machine That Changed the World, which chronicled the successful implementation of the Toyota Production System at NUMMI. Dennis was a lecturer at MIT’s automotive programs in Berlin and Beijing. NUMMI was chosen by the U.S. Department of Labor as its case study on innovative labor relations that was presented at a 1985 session of the International Labor Organization. Dennis co-authored the study (with the UAW and the U.S. Department of Labor), and joined in its presentation in Turin, Italy.
While at NUMMI, Dennis chaired the California Worksite Research Committee, a non-partisan group of policy leaders drawn from business, education, government and labor. The Committee was the brainchild of Ben Munger, a longtime staffer on the State Senate Industrial Relations Committee. Funded by the California Employment Training Panel, the Committee’s purpose was to study high performance workplaces such as NUMMI, identify key factors that made them successful, and chronicle how their workforces coped with changes in the workplace brought about by globalization. Led by Professor Buzz Wilms, a team of industrial anthropologists from UCLA spent time working on the production lines of four factories, including NUMMI. Their work was summarized in paper published in MIT’s Sloan Management Review, Cultural Transformation at NUMMI, and later in a book authored by Professor Wilms, entitled Restoring Prosperity.
Toyota in North America
After NUMMI’s successful start-up, Toyota built its first wholly-owned plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, and in 1995 Dennis was appointed to a team of senior Toyota executives that was tasked with creating a North American manufacturing headquarters, Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America (“TMMNA”) in a Northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. Dennis was named as Vice President and was later promoted to Senior Vice President. At this point, Toyota was in a rapid expansion mode, building new plants in Indiana, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and Mexico. Dennis was in charge of site selection for the company and led a multi-disciplinary team including HR, Facilities, Logistics, Finance, Sales, Government Relations, Legal and PR. The rapid growth of Toyota’s manufacturing footprint in the U.S was described in a feature story in Time Magazine, which dubbed I-64 from West Virginia to Missouri as the “Toyota Road.”
Dennis’ responsibilities also included planning, legal and environmental. During his tenure at TMMNA, Toyota won a 9-0 decision at the U.S. Supreme Court on a landmark case that clarified the scope of the American With Disabilities Act in the workplace. The attorney representing Toyota was future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Toyota’s manufacturing plants achieved significant reductions in air emissions, energy, water usage and landfill waste disposal during Dennis’ tenure as head of environmental. Dennis also headed up diversity efforts for Toyota’s manufacturing operations, which set aggressive targets for purchases from minority firms, which increased from $40 million in 1997 to $1 billion 8 years later.
In 2000, Dennis was named as Senior Vice President of Toyota Motor North America (“TMA”), which at the time was Toyota’s North American Holding Company. For several years, he held dual roles at TMMNA and TMA. He transferred to TMA’s office in Manhattan in 2003, where he was in charge of administration (HR, Accounting, IT), research & planning, corporate communications (public relations and investor relations), government relations (including the company’s Washington DC office), industry relations, legal, and the Latin American Research Group. He was tasked with creating a comprehensive CSR strategy for the company’s North American operations. He also served as the company’s Corporate Secretary and Chief Environmental Officer, and he continued to lead Toyota’s site selection activities. During this time, Dennis held a number of outside positions. He was on the Boards of the National Association of Manufacturers, the Committee for Economic Development, and the National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center. He was Board Chair of the Cincinnati Branch of the Federal Reserve. As the company’s chief spokesperson, he was frequently quoted in the national print media, and appeared on broadcast media such as CNBC, CNN, and CSPAN, as well as a number of local broadcasts. He spoke frequently at events ranging from the Brookings Energy Security Roundtable to the 49th CEO Summit at the Yale School of Management.
“Dennis C. Cuneo may not be a household name, but to officials of state development agencies around the country, he’s the equivalent of Elvis.” – NYTimes DealBook, 2009
DC Strategic Advisors LLC and Fisher & Phillips LLP
After a 22-year career with Toyota, in late 2006, Dennis rejoined his former law firm, Arent Fox, and started his own to consulting firm, DC Strategic Advisors LLP, which provides strategic counsel for businesses and organizations. He has advised several Silicon Valley high-tech firms, a bank, an investment firm, two European companies looking to expand in the U.S., a Japanese electronics company, several economic development organizations, a commercial truck manufacturer, and several auto parts companies. He continued his site selection activities, and including his time with Toyota, has worked on projects with a cumulative investment of over $12 billion that have created over 20,000 jobs. Site selection is a complex process involving numerous factors from workforce skills to logistics, and it is particularly complex for billion dollar auto assembly plants, where Dennis has deep experience. In addition to auto plants, Dennis had led site selection for corporate headquarters, R&D facilities, and high tech plants. In 2009, the New York Times DealBook wrote about him: “Dennis C. Cuneo may not be a household name, but to officials of state development agencies around the country, he’s the equivalent of Elvis.” Southern Business and Development Magazine twice named him to it’s “Top Ten People Who’ve Made a Difference in the South,” joining several Governors and economic development officials.
In 2010, Dennis was named as the managing partner of the Washington D.C. office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, which is a national labor and employment firm with 31 offices across the United States. Fisher & Phillips represents a wide range of public and private employers. The firm was recently named by named as the 2015 “Law Firm of the Year” for Labor & Employment Litigation by U.S. News & World Report in its Annual Best Law Firms survey.
Dennis joined the Boards of two Fortune 500 companies: AK Steel in 2008 and BorgWarner in 2009. AK Steel is an integrated steel company, whose predecessor, Armco Steel, was founded over 100 years ago. The company, which has annual sales over $6 billion, is a major supplier to the automotive industry. Dennis sits on the Board’s Audit and Public & Environmental Issues Committees. BorgWarner is a global product leader in automotive powertrain solutions, focusing on products that improve fuel economy, emissions and performance. The company generated revenues of $7.3 billion last year and operates at 60 locations in 19 countries. Dennis sits on the Board’s Audit Committee.
Dennis serves on the Board of SSOE, a privately held engineering and construction firm with more than 20 offices around the world and projects in more than 30 countries. The company provides program management services from site selection through design, construction, commissioning and start-up. Recently, Dennis and SSOE teamed together to offer expert advice to a region that was developing a mega-site to attract a future automotive assembly plant. Dennis also sits on the Advisory Boards of two high-tech companies: a nano-technology company in Silicon Valley and a software developer in the Seattle area.
On the academic and research side, Dennis is on the Board of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, which is a leading auto industry think tank. He is on the Board of Trustees of Loyola University in New Orleans, where he received his law degree. He serves on the Visiting Committee of the University of Chicago’s Physical Sciences Division, and on the Advisory Board of the Center for Manufacturing Excellence at Ole Miss. He is a member of the National Advisory Board of the College of Business Administration at Kent State, where he earned his M.B.A. He has served on the Boards of three other universities. In 2006, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana and was the 2006 commencement speaker.