If there ever was one single corporate executive who believed in a renaissance of American manufacturing, and who was determined to make it happen, it was surely my good friend Richard E. Dauch who tragically passed away on August 2.
Dick was one of the great names in the U.S. auto industry. At the age of 30 he became the youngest plant manager in the history of Chevrolet. He helped build a new Volkswagen plant in Pennsylvania -- the first foreign auto company factory built here. Then he joined Lee Iacocca at Chrysler where Dick was responsible for reviving Chrysler's product quality and supervising production of the first minivans. Under Dick's leadership, those minivans were top quality from day one, and still are today, more than 30 years later.
In 1994, Dick raised funding to buy five old General Motors axle and drive train plants that were in shoddy condition and losing money. When I say shoddy, those old GM plants in Detroit reflected the slums around them -- broken windows, leaking roofs, dangerous working conditions, filthy lunchrooms and rest rooms, and an alienated workforce. The products coming off the assembly lines averaged 13,441 defects per million -- about as bad as you can get. But with a vision of quality and a strong leadership ethic, Dauch and his team -- working 16 hour days seven days a week -- transformed those derelicts into a world-class industrial empire.
My colleague Hank Cox captured Dick's story in American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Country, published by St. Martin's Press last year. It is a classic tale of triumph over adversity. Dick and his team built a modern, world-class plant from a pile of rubble, took it international and showed that American manufacturing still has gas in the tank.
Unfortunately, he could not overcome the Detroit entitlement mentality that has destroyed that once great city. The United Auto Workers struck demanding a contract that Dick knew his company could not survive. It is sad, sad story. The once thriving factories -- glistening red, white and blue buildings -- are being torn down. But American Axle survived the 2008 strike and the vicious downturn of 2009. Today, AAM employs 12,000 people, thousands in the U.S. The company is on a solid growth path once again, thanks to Dick's inspired leadership.
As Chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers during my tenure there, Dick brought a spirited voice to the cause of manufacturing, and an inspired vision of a renaissance that he believed was even then in the making. He helped lay the groundwork for that renaissance today taking place all around us. His leadership was instrumental in making it happen.
Dick was a great leader of industry, and an exemplary man. He and his wife Sandy were married for 54 years. He was a man of solid values -- integrity, hard work, patriotism, religious faith, devotion to family and -- most importantly -- faith in the future. He was a great man and will be sorely missed, especially by those of us privileged to know him personally. I extend heartfelt condolences to his family and all the people of AAM.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements.