On a typical fall Friday night in Detroit, odds are good Matthew Simoncini can be found at a high school football game. He won’t be sitting down low in the stands, munching popcorn and cheering on the home team, though.
“I stand up on the top row,” Simoncini said. “I can’t watch it just for entertainment. It’s down and situation. It’s what weaknesses and tendencies players have that can be exploited. What are the other coach’s tendencies? You see things differently. You kind of think of the game on those levels. There is nothing I’d rather do on a Friday night than go to a high school game.”
Even though Simoncini’s playing career ended in high school and his coaching career did the same in college, he still has an enormous amount of passion for the game. And football is also one of the biggest reasons his career has been so successful.
“Football was huge,” Simoncini said. “You’re challenged at a time during any assignment where you think you may not be able to do it, it may be bigger than you and it may break you. And you think back to your time in double sessions where you’re doing down-ups in the 90-degree heat, or you’re getting your ass kicked by a guy who is bigger, better, faster, stronger than you, and you have to keep him out.
It goes back to lessons of thinking you can’t take another step, you can’t run another sprint, you can’t push that sled another five yards. And you think, ‘I’ve been here before. I’ve felt this before. I’ve persevered. If I get through this, I will survive this and I will make a difference.’ It goes back to those types of training with your coach yelling over you.”
In addition to football, Simoncini, 55, got a lot of his strong work ethic from being from Detroit.
“I love the soft side of [Detroit], which is the spirit of the people, the diversity and the work ethic that comes out of it,” Simoncini said. “I’ve had the luxury of working all around the world and visiting leaders of 36 countries around the world. I’ve lived abroad. I always want to come back home. And at the end of the day, there’s a special spirit about the people of Detroit, which is that can-do work ethic. It’s a very, very special place.”
Simoncini played offensive guard and linebacker as a 150-pound two-way player at Class 1A Bishop Gallagher High School.
“To me, those are the two best positions on the team,” Simoncini said. “I love the offensive line. It’s the only position in football where you seek contact on every play. Even as a linebacker, you might go out in coverage or what have you. You’re a heat-seeking missile, but on the offensive line every single play is the epitome of teamwork as you work as a unit. I love it.”
Because he was undersized, Simoncini did not play football when he moved on to Wayne State University, in suburban Detroit. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college.
“At that point I had been playing ball for about nine years,” Simoncini said. “It really just came down to having to make a living and having to pay my tuition, so it was a turning point. One of the hardest things to do was to walk away from the game as a player.”
Simoncini coached eighth-grade football all four years he was in college. But he had to finally give up his involvement with the game to start his career as a CPA at accounting firm Touche Ross.
“I knew I wanted to go to work in a suit,” Simoncini said. “I went through the jobs that were in demand. Right at the top of the list was CPAs. I knew I had to get a job immediately upon getting out of school, so I went into something I could do and there would be a demand for, so I studied accounting.”
He steadily climbed the corporate ladder, eventually moving into his current role in September of 2011. Simoncini has been with Lear Corporation since 1996.
“Everybody asks me, ‘How did you learn to be CEO?'” he said. “You don’t. There’s no school for it. What it’s like is how you coach a team where every player is different, but every player has a role. It’s a team. It’s the same thing in business — everybody’s got a role to play. If we work together as a team and share rewards and recognition, we’ll win as a team. And there’s nothing greater than that.
A lot of the leadership comes from being part of a team, knowing everybody has a role and coaching. There have been so many lessons I’ve learned — the work ethic from doing double sessions in 90-degree heat; the teamwork from working as part of a team on the offensive line; how to manage — people from being a head coach of a football team. These are lessons that you can’t learn in a classroom.”
Through his career, Simoncini has also developed a friendship with former University of Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr.
“He’s part of the Lear family,” Simoncini said. “What I mean by that is he’s an inspiration, and he can articulate in many ways what it’s like to be part of a team. We’re trying to change the culture of the Lear Corporation to be more inclusive and more team-oriented. He was a major presenter at my leadership conference. He came in and spoke.
“Of course, when Lloyd Carr walks into the room, he immediately has the attention of everybody, whether or not you’re a U of M fan, alumni, a football fan or just a general person, because he commands a room. He’s honest. He has integrity. He’s humble. To hear him speak with his passion about teamwork was exactly what we needed to help us turn the culture of Lear Corporation around. He’s a great guy who is humble but tough.”
Simoncini had an even bigger football influence in his life, though. His dad, Joe, was a volunteer football coach for 30 years in the Catholic Youth Organization, a Detroit Junior Football League, where Simoncini played for his him.
“He did it because he believed football was a maker of men,” Simoncini said. “It taught you how to be a man, how to stand up, how to be strong, how to take responsibility, how to work as a team. This is what I believe.”
And while his dad was proud of Simoncini for his success in the business world, he still very much wanted his boy to coach football.
“When I made vice president at Lear Corporation the first time, I was in my late thirties,” Simoncini said. “I went in and told my dad, ‘I made VP.’ He was incredibly proud, but he said, ‘This isn’t how I raised you, Matthew.’ You’d think I had told him I was going out and selling crack. I said, ‘What are you talking about, pop? I’m on the senior leadership team at Lear Corporation, a major corporation.’ He said, ‘You’re a football coach! I raised you to be an offensive line coach! I want you to do this assignment. Then, I want you to quit and go back and coach high school football like you were raised!’ To him, there was no higher calling than coaching kids.”