Mitsubishi, Leadership Return to the Area

If people have become weary seeing Nashville win more corporate headquarters relocations, they perhaps may want to look at the unspoken lesson with the most recent announcements – previous ties to a city can lead to a return.

Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors North America said Tuesday it would bring 200 jobs with its North American headquarters move from California. The move puts it close to the headquarters of Nissan North America, a sister company in a three-way alliance that includes French car company Renault.

Later in the day,, a two-year-old firm that provides online bookkeeping and accounting, said it plans to add a second office in Nashville and hire 450 employees over the next five years. It currently employs 75 in San Francisco.

Top leaders with both companies have prior Nashville experience in varying degrees and are returning for a second around.

“We call them boomerangers,” said Ralph Schulz, president and chief executive officer of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber tracks the population that leaves and comes back. Although both companies are coming from California, that’s not the biggest source of people returning.

“Atlanta is the No. 1 boomerang city for us,” Schulz said.

While Mitsubishi’s stated reason is to be closer to Nissan, Mitsubishi’s decision brings a familiar face back to the Nashville area. Fred Diaz, Mitsubishi’s chief executive officer, spent more than four years at Nissan in Franklin, Tennessee.

Diaz played a big role working out a deal with Nashville’s NFL team, the Tennessee Titans, when it rebranded its home field to Nissan Stadium in 2015.

“Middle Tennessee is a great place to live and do business and Nashville is one of the great vacation and convention destinations in the U.S.,” Diaz, then Nissan’s senior vice president for sales, marketing and operations, said in a statement at the time.

Diaz went to Mitsubishi in 2017 and became the top exec a year ago. The automaker has been making changes to its business such as redesigning its dealerships and cars as well as adding new vehicles to its lineup. He dubbed it as a rebirth for the company.

“As we drive toward the future, this is the perfect time for us to move to a new home,” he said in a statement.

Diaz, however, didn’t make the decision to move on his own. The executive team as a whole made the decision, according to Jeremy Barnes, Mitsubishi’s senior director for communications and events.

But his prior experience certainly played a role in the decision. “He knows first-hand about what the area offers, and what it means for the quality of life for our employee team,” Barnes said by email. “Of course, the proximity to our partner company, Nissan, is a benefit to speeding our knowledge of the area, too.”’s roots with Nashville run even deeper and represents a stronger boomerang effect, Schulz noted. Jessica McKellar, a co-founder in the company, grew up mostly in the Nashville area. McKellar graduated from Franklin High School before heading off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her mother was in the audience when the announcement was made Tuesday at Tech Hill Commons, an innovation center in Nashville.

After M.I.T., she became a software engineer for Ksplice, a software company started by M.I.T. graduates and later bought by Oracle. She then joined with Ksplice founders to start Zulip, a chat software that competes with Slack. Dropbox bought it five years ago.

The same co-founders got together to start two years ago in San Francisco. In her time there, she ended up as a senior technical consultant for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” a comical television series by Mike Judge, who created “Beavis and Butthead” and “King of the Hill.”

McKellar got into that role after regaling the show’s writers with amusing stories from her time with Kplice, according to a 2016 profile with Techies Project, a website that profiles Silicon Valley tech employees.

With the new startup, she had been splitting time between Nashville and San Francisco, a employee said. McKellar hasn’t responded for interview requests but in a statement she said Nashville has “great schools, attracts incredible, diverse talent and is making smart investments to support its burgeoning startup scene.”

Of course, she also added that she knows “first-hand that it’s a great place to live and raise a family.”

Author: Richard Lawson
Featured Image: A view of downtown Nashville from John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge over the Cumberland River. Photo: Denis Tangney Jr. via iStock