By Larry Little, ABC ’20
Nissan Motor Co. Director of Product Planning Tim Franklin, BSME ’98, was destined to follow in his mother’s college footsteps. He traveled from his native Memphis, Tennessee, to Waco every year for Baylor Homecoming as a child, and he estimates his mother, Patsy (Parchman) Franklin, BBA ’64, has missed no more than five homecomings since graduating.
“She is as diehard an alumna as you can imagine,” Franklin says. “I was dyed in the wool Baylor from an early age.”
Franklin’s sister, Melanie Dreyer, BBA ’95, also graduated from Baylor. His father, Sherman Franklin, was a business law professor at the University of Memphis but developed a love for Baylor and was an Alumni By Choice honoree.
“Dad jokingly said we were doomed to go to Baylor,” Franklin says. “But he loved Baylor and its pursuit of teaching excellence. My dad appreciated professors that were skilled craftsmen as teachers, that being their trade.”
Franklin enjoyed what he calls a full collegiate experience at Baylor, where he was Phi Kappa Chi president and participated in All University Sing, Pigskin Review. It was through the latter that he met his wife of 23 years, Jo Girard Franklin, BSEd ’98. He loved the engineering program’s intimacy that allowed him to develop relationships with fellow students and professors.
“It was a big university, but I was known,” he says. “My professors would have noticed if I wasn’t in class. It was nice combination of accountability and being more than a number.”
The School of Engineering and Computer Science’s intimacy was never more real for Franklin than during the fall semester of his senior year, when his father was diagnosed with cancer.
“Baylor was understanding and helpful as I dealt with a difficult personal period,” he says. “When that time of crisis came, my professors’ response was, ‘How can we serve you in this season?’ They did everything they could to help me catch up my studies and be flexible.”
The idea of flexibility has followed Franklin throughout his career. He has more than 20 years of diverse experience in the automotive industry, including 16-plus years with Nissan and its luxury vehicle division Infiniti. However, his start in the industry was hardly illustrious.
“I applied to internships all through my junior summer at Baylor, and none of them worked out,” he says. “I have a stack of rejection letters framed on my wall; it is a gentle reminder to remember the Lord is sovereign and keeps me humble.”
Franklin was able to maintain his academic standing through his father’s cancer battle, but one class that he needed to graduate was only offered in the fall. Heat transfer meant an extra semester at Baylor. He eventually landed an internship with General Motors in Detroit, Michigan, during his final collegiate summer.
“That was one bright thing that came out of my senior year with my dad’s cancer,” Franklin says. “There were so many divine orchestrations. The Lord had a plan and worked many details together.”
One such providential proceeding involved Franklin’s then-girlfriend Jo, who was given an internship by the North American Mission Board after graduating Baylor and was placed in Arlington. By that time, Franklin was a full-time General Motors employee in Michigan and planning for a fall proposal.
“I ended up working on a project for a vehicle that was being developed in Arlington of all places,” he says. “There are only a handful of GM plants not in the North, and the equipment for my project was going to Arlington. It was divine orchestration in starting a great career.”
Franklin spent 30 months as a body shop engineer at the GM Arlington Assembly Plant before returning to the classroom, earning a Master of Business Administration in finance and marketing from Vanderbilt University in 2003. He then spent three years with Ford Motor Co. as a product development finance analyst for the F-150 pickup truck.
“I was able to bring my product knowledge and engineering mindset into the finance arena,” he says. “Working in that area continues to be useful today.”
Franklin joined Nissan in 2006, initially working in finance and transitioning to product planning two years later. All his time with Nissan has been in Nashville, Tennessee, save a three-year foreign service assignment in the Greater Toronto Area. Today, Franklin is the conduit between Nissan’s engineers, manufacturers, artists and financiers.
“We define the target customers—their wants and needs and what’s important about the vehicle,” he says. “We then develop a strategy to be competitive in the marketplace, and we have to communicate that strategy to various groups.”
Franklin refers to himself as Nissan’s internal translator. He talks with artists about a vehicle’s emotional elements: A young parent needs a vehicle that is particularly safe and provides proficient practicality.
“When I’m talking with an engineer, I’m saying, ‘I need three rows of seats, and I need to be able to get into that third row with a car seat. And with that second row, I need USB chargers or whatever,’” he says. “You’re talking very specific details.”
Franklin’s daily work is largely about problem solving and the pursuit of excellence in a craft. While both are in his nature, he says they were reinforced through his Baylor Engineering education.
“Being a Christian in the workplace, we’re called to excellence, to work as unto Him,” he says. “There is congruency there in terms of how I was taught and how I see my role in the workplace from a professional point of view. That’s the ultimate goal—for people to see my work as excellent and to glorify Him.”
Likewise, Franklin says his career is a reflection of an axiom pressed upon him at Baylor: Do not have a static mindset.
“You leave Baylor with enough information to keep learning,” he says. “There’s not a static element to my career. My growth has come through getting marketing experience and finance experience and planning strategy experience and continuing to be curious. That all goes back to those foundations that were encouraged in that season at Baylor.”