If Dick Dauch had stopped working at 50, he would have had a legendary career. By then, the Ohio farm boy had played football at Purdue, gone to work as an engineer at General Motors Co. (IW 500/4) and become the youngest (30) plant manager in the Chevrolet division.
In 1976, Dauch left GM to launch Volkswagen's (IW 1000/10) U.S. manufacturing operation. When VW's board decided to pull back on U.S. expansion, Dauch soon linked up with Lee Iacocca to help save Chrysler. Dauch spearheaded the changes in production, included rolling model changes and applied statistical process control, that improved quality and made the launch of the first minivan in 1983 a huge success. Dauch hoped to succeed Iacocca as Chrysler's CEO. When he was passed over, he retired and wrote his first book, "Passion for Manufacturing."
But Dauch was only 50 and he still wanted to run a company. In 1994, he led an investment group that purchased five former GM plants employing 7,500 associates. American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. (IW 500/310) was born.
Dauch began a relentless drive to upgrade the rundown facilities, instill a more productive culture and invest in new machinery and lean manufacturing processes. He also spent millions to buy up crime-ridden properties in Detroit surrounding his factories and turn the waste-littered land into a manicured campus.
AAM was an immediate success, but more challenges awaited Dauch. In 2008, believing the company could not survive with its present labor costs, he took on the UAW in a bitter strike. Then Dauch led AAM through a painful downsizing and reorganization necessitated by the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler. At one point within five days of bankruptcy, AAM survived and today is again a profitable global manufacturer.
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