• Photo courtesy of Stephen Richardson

Stellantis’ Controls and Robotics Manager Stephen Richardson on Why Being Authentic Is Key to His Success

By |2021-10-21T10:00:21-04:00October 21st, 2021|Automotive, Michigan, News|

You might be surprised to learn that the LGBTQ+ community is advancing the auto industry — yep, queers are engineering, too. And in addition to owning Backstreet at Large Multiplex, the LGBTQ+ bar in Detroit, and harmonizing with PRISM Men’s Chorus, Richardson also works as the controls and robotics manager at Stellantis’ Detroit Assembly Complex, at the Mack plant in Detroit. Recently, he took Pride Source behind the hood of his job.

Your work with robotics is incredibly technical and requires great skill. Do you enjoy it?
It’s absolutely stimulating work. One of the things that I enjoy the most is the problem-solving. It’s problem-solving at a very fast pace, where seconds matter. The pressure, it’s not for everyone. But it’s something that has been learned over years of my career to not let it get to me and to be able to think at a fast pace, especially under pressure, and to be able to tune out and focus on the problem and what we need to get the line up and back [to] running. I thrive on the pressure sometimes.

Stephen Richardson at the Detroit Assembly Complex. Photo courtesy of Stephen Richardson

How have you navigated being openly gay in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry that’s mostly comprised of cisgender straight men? 
Through a long, introspective process, I came to the understanding that I am perfect, whole and complete. And with that, I created the possibility to be the best authentic representation of myself. So, basically, I left nothing in the closet but shame, fear and doubt. And then I discovered how amazing life is once you tell your story. Some may call it “living your truth,” but, to me, it’s just being authentic.

Do you have any advice for those in the LGBTQ+ community looking to get into STEM?
Remember that there are LGBTQ+ members in all communities, especially in highly technical roles. In STEM fields, your technical prowess shines brighter than any other attribute that you possess. Focus on being the best at your craft and everything else will come naturally.

You also own Backstreet at Large Multiplex. How did that come to be? 
In 2017, through a series of training and development courses, I overcame my biggest fear in life — which was being myself unapologetically, loving my sexuality, and not trying to please everyone. I developed a mission for the rest of my life, which is to be happy, social and free. Focusing on this mission, I took a stand in how my life is now, and how my future retirement will be. I chose to be active in my investments, and Backstreet was the perfect opportunity.
Through my newfound love of self, I found myself in a well-known gay bar in Detroit, having open conversations with its staff and patrons. While there, I met who eventually would become my business partner, Douglas Keller. We began looking for ways to work together and grow a business that would be socially responsible, providing the community with a safe space to live, grow and enjoy their lives. Douglas had previous connections with the former owner of Backstreet, as this brand had been around Michigan for more than 40 years. Through our conversations, I became very interested and started researching the viability of owning a restaurant with a bar.

I took a bold step and committed to this project, something that would carry me through the adversity that owning a business and a LGBTQ+ establishment would bring. I analyzed my finances and then started getting to work. Then, [with] my project management experience — gained from my career — and [with] Douglas’ eye for designing a beautiful building, we produced what is today known as Backstreet at Large Multiplex.

Douglas is no longer with the business, but we have great appreciation and acknowledge him for all the experience, knowledge, and development he brought to this team. Despite the changes, we are keeping our focus on the community. After all Backstreet is not about me nor for me, it’s for the community that I am a proud member of, and for all to enjoy.

How do you manage being an engineer and business owner?  
I make sure that I work with my teams in each area, whether at the plant or at the restaurant and bar. I am a servant leader. I constantly look for how I can support the team versus directing the team.

You’re an active member of PRISM. How has that helped you throughout your career?
Honestly, I am a new member of PRISM. I am still learning what I can be for this Business Resource Group and what it will be for Me. Overall, I can say that PRISM has provided me an avenue of confidence and growth for my goals. [It has helped me with],  Stellantis’ goals [as well]. I’m proud to have the support of PRISM and all of its members as we continue to grow together.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.