Jon M. Canty – DENSO

He’s helping DENSO drive to a greener world

The road to progress can’t be blocked by legal uncertainties. Just slowed, at times, with cautionary signs posted.

So explains Jon M. Canty who oversees risks that, not too many years ago, few could have anticipated. Autonomous and even airborne cars once seemed so sci-fi.

“Urban air mobility or ‘Jetson’ cars,” the affable Canty says, the latter term in reference to the Space Age cartoon that first aired during the early 1960s with new episodes during the mid- and late-1980s.

Jon M. Canty | General Counsel and Secretary | DENSO

Jon M. Canty | General Counsel and Secretary | DENSO

But before such vehicles can literally get off the ground, they’ll be preceded by the next generation of earthbound cars that don’t need a driver. Only before that can happen, a slew of issues—technological and legal—must be satisfied.

As the general counsel and corporate secretary for DENSO’s North American interests, Canty is thrilled to have a role in such technological breakthroughs but sometimes must flash the yellow light.

“All the rules for cars now assume there’s a driver,” Canty muses in October from DENSO’s North American headquarters in Southfield, Michigan. “When there’s no driver, who’s responsible if there’s an accident? These are rules and regulations under development and we, as a company, must understand what the rules will be, how to comply and, where appropriate, participate in the rule making process.”

Green and Peace of Mind

Those cars of the future fit into DENSO’s aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. DENSO can’t do it alone, however, and Canty has helped the business partner with other companies, including Honeywell, to research and develop the motors for these vehicles.

He’s also helped centralize in-house legal functions so that, should a legal matter arise in Tennessee where starters and alternators are made, the North American Legal Department would manage it and standardize a policy that benefits the region. DENSO also manufactures in California, Arkansas, North Carolina and Michigan and has other operations in Mexico and Canada.

Jon M. Canty | General Counsel and Secretary | DENSO

The issues are only getting more complex, he explains. Intellectual properties and data rights have become more of a concern, and risk management also becomes more sensitive, especially as innovators put regulators in reactionary mode. UAM cars seen as, among other things, the taxis of the future, Canty will be keeping tabs on how the Federal Aviation Administration comes down on the matter.

And, with DENSO’s products including devices that capture driving data, there’s certain to be much more sensitive information and likely still no imminent U.S. standard for privacy.

Thus, the general counsel’s need to immerse in projects, and that’s among the shifts Canty has made since joining DENSO as senior corporate counsel in 2018 and, two years later, being promoted to his present roles.

He means business

“Historically the legal department was reactive and tactical, really just a service provider,” he says. “They would answer the questions, but my view is different. Our department needs to engage with our business partners and be strategic and proactive in addition to reactive.”

When a recent contract was inked, Canty pored over the details with business partners, a sales leader and an engineer. While he won’t go into detail, he’s had many contracts reworded in DENSO’s interest. He’s learned enough about engineering to speak some of the same language and, just as important, has picked up on the cultural nuances of the Japanese owners.

“In Japan, they’re very society-focused,” he says. “They want what’s best for the public whereas the U.S. tends to prioritize the individual.”

But there’s enough common ground, he says, when it comes to both countries pursuing the causes of a green, carbon-neutral world and peace of mind. Autonomous cars would fit into that equation, doing a societal good by affording more independence to the elderly, sight-impaired and physically challenged. All the better if their cars don’t need gasoline, and Canty assures of DENSO’s progress on the electronic vehicle front.

Jon M. Canty | General Counsel and Secretary | DENSO

So, it’s time for thinking big and green, which Canty has been doing in-house for the past 15 years after honing his skills with firms. Prior to DENSO, the 1997 Capital University School of law graduate logged legal and compliance roles with, in reverse order, NSK Americas, Masco Corp. and FirstEnergy.

NSK Americas is a Tier-1 automotive supplier that evolved from making ball bearings to roller bearings. Masco manufactures and distributes building products. FirstEnergy manufactures electricity through 10 stations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

“I’ve been a legal generalist for most of my career with much transactional work and contracting,” he says, noting the importance of those roles at DENSO. “It’s helped me see a lot of different scenarios: HR, environment, safety, supply chains etc. I may not have all the answers, but I know where the sources are and how to issue-spot.”

The issues will grow with DENSO entering this brave new world where cars could outsmart drivers. His time as legal boss has been interesting, coinciding with COVID-19.

Pre-pandemic implementation of Office 365 keeps in-house communication flowing and outside partners have also adjusted. The back office has become a better integrated team, he says, and the techno-talent on the floor hasn’t skipped a beat. And while Canty can’t always fast-forward a project, he empathizes with what everyone else is up against.

“The word ‘no’ is a four-letter word,” says the father of four children. “Unless something’s illegal, you don’t say ‘no.’ You ask, ‘what are the risks’ and advise on the good, better and best option.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter III 2023 Edition here.

Published on: January 4, 2023


categories: ,

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.


I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.
It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.
The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.


Spring I 2024



  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.