Things have changed quite a bit since Christopher Reynolds attended Detroit Cass Technical High School 40 years ago. The old nine-story building he attended classes in was torn down in 2011, his former teachers are all gone, and his old Cass Tech gear does not fit quite the same.
But one thing remains consistent; Cass Tech is a world-class educational facility, producing world-class students, prompting the current staff at the downtown Detroit high school to declare January 16 as “Chris Reynolds Day.”
Reynolds, 56, is the Chief Administrative Officer, Manufacturing and Corporate Resources for Toyota Motor North America, the highest ranking African-American auto executive in the world. He is responsible for the North American functions of manufacturing operations, accounting and finance, human resources, government affairs, corporate communications, corporate ztrategy, social innovation/diversity and inclusion, and legal, among others.
As a high-ranking auto executive, returning home to Detroit to attend the North American International Auto Show is something Reynolds does every year. He did not know that this particular trip to Detroit would see his former high school honoring him, but it was a proud moment.
“This probably means that I’m getting old,” Reynolds laughed, as he sat in the Sharon Allen band room inside Cass Tech’s new state-of-the art facility. “But what it really means is that I’m part of a continuum, seeing that Cass Tech didn’t stop after me. It thrived, you have all these great students who are doing wonderful things and are so full of potential, and that gives me the feeling that it’s a great legacy to pass on. It’s special to be a part of this Cass Tech legacy.”
Reynolds entered high school in 1975 as a 12-year-old. He had skipped first and fifth-grade and was entering a diverse school, with well over 4,000 students. Reynolds admitted that he was not a popular jock in high school. Instead of playing football or basketball, he majored in science and arts and participated in the radio, tv, and speech club. Academics came first in his home, having an older brother that attended Cranbrook.
“Walking into Cass Tech this morning, I told one of the coaches that I didn’t play sports for two reasons,” Reynolds said. “For one, there was no sport that I could play at 12-years-old and my parents always made it clear that as opposed to me playing sports, they’d rather have me in the library reading books. You can always pick up the sports later.”
Reynolds had a full day visiting Cass Tech. He addressed an auditorium full of former and current Technicians, heard from the Cass Tech orchestra, took a tour of the six-story building, and a luncheon was held in the media center to honor one of Cass Tech’s most accomplished alums.
He attended Kalamazoo College after Cass Tech, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science with honors in 1983.He received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1986. In 2007, Reynolds began working for Toyota as its lawyer nationally and before you know it, he was promoted as its global lawyer.
Prior to joining Toyota, Reynolds was a partner at the law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius in New York City, where he also worked as manager of the New York office’s labor and employment law group. He served as a member of the firm’s advisory board and as chair of the firm’s diversity committee.
Earlier, Reynolds served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, and as a law clerk for Judge Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit in Detroit. Reynolds said Judge Keith has been like another father to him.
Not bad for someone from Woodingham and Margareta streets in Detroit.
“Mr. Reynolds is being extremely humble in what he does and his accomplishments to date,” said Leon C. Richardson, president and CEO of Chemico Systems. “You all are in the presence of greatness and Chris is a leading example of what you all can do as well. He’s the highest ranking African-American automotive industry and that’s a huge statement. He came down the same path as you all and you, too, can do this.”
Fellow Cass Tech graduate Donna Charles sponsored the entire event. She is the CEO and co-founder of Multi-Training Systems, which provides workforce development training, and is a supplier for GM, Ford, Toyota, Hyundai, and other automotive suppliers.
“I met Chris at a Toyota supplier event and was excited to learn that he was a Cass Tech grad as well,” said Charles. “I spearheaded this event because of the impact these types of events had on me. These types of events laid the foundation for me to start my business.”
Reynolds’ ability to relate to the students at Cass Tech is what allowed him to garner their full attention. He grew up in the Bagley neighborhood on Detroit’s west side near Seven Mile and Livernois and was the youngest of eight children: four by his mother and four by his stepfather. His stepfather worked at the Ford River Rouge Plant and his mother was a registered nurse.
He currently lives in Dallas, but his roots are here in Detroit. His life accomplishments and love of Detroit and Cass Tech rubbed off on many of the students he encountered, from the junior in ROTC who plays tennis and Reynolds recommended that she attend Kalamazoo College, to the students in the marketing class he gave a short marketing lesson to on Toyota, and the student he made sit up in the auditorium to listen to his speech.
“This was an amazing experience to have a man with such wisdom and experience come back to your school to talk to you,” said Cass Tech senior Quinton Howard, who plans to attend Wayne State University to study accounting. “Similar to Mr. Reynolds, I have family that works in the automotive industry and it feels close to home to have him here. It’s my passion to serve and I want to return the favor to Cass Tech students in 40 years, just like he is doing today.”
Cass Tech is a proud community and family atmosphere. Its unofficial motto is, “Cass Tech Number One, Second To None.” The 112-year-old institution demands excellence from all of its students, which is why its alumni base includes the likes of Diana Ross, Big Sean, John DeLorean, David Alan Grier, Della Reese, Esther Gordy, Terry Foster, Kwame Kilpatrick, Jourdan Lewis, and so many others.
Even when he goes for a run, he wears his Cass Tech football shirt with his name on the back, and people all over the world are familiar with the green and white of Cass Tech.
“If you can graduate from Cass Tech, you can do anything,” said Reynolds.