Ed Montgomery, the Obama administration’s newly appointed “Car Czar” christened his new post yesterday by announcing he would make helping displaced workers his priority in the next few weeks.
“My job is to cut the red tape,” Montgomery said in a press conference after his meetings in Lansing, Mich, with Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) and other state officials. He compared the situation to a natural disaster and said he would explore current government programs to assist displaced workers such as extended benefits usually reserved for workers who lose their jobs to off-shoring. He also said he would look to use some of the $787 billion federal stimulus to support auto workers.
Doesn’t sound like a vote of confidence for the industry he’s trying to save. It sounds like a life raft for those left in the water when the inevitable happens.
In the last month, TheLadders Career-Advice has profiled three auto executives who said they saw the inevitable coming and decided to swim to higher ground.
Will Scrugs was a platform manager at International Automotive Component near Detroit. He told reporter Patty Orsini that he enjoyed his job and wouldn’t be leaving but for the industry downturn.
It was “a lot of little things happening that, taken together, pushed me to start looking around. Last September, I was directly tied with Chrysler, and there was a lot of downsizing there. Car sales were getting worse and worse. I needed to do something different; not go back to school, but look at other industries and other companies where there would be opportunities.”
He decided to consider relocating and moving to a different industry, that still relied on his manufacturing background. He found DTMP, a heavy-equipment manufacturing company in Lebanon, Mo., where he is director of quality and engineering. He will performing many of the same tasks he did in Detroit. “We will be designing parts and making parts, and instead of going on a car, they will go on a tractor or a combine.”
Sherry Olinyk, of London, Ontario, outside Detroit, left her job as a plant manager at an automotive parts manufacturer in October. She said she saw the writing on the wall.
She left an industry many consider aged and dying and found growth opportunities at company founded 344 years ago.
Olinyk is now a plant manager for Saint-Gobain’s construction-materials plant in Plattsville, Ontario, where they produce abrasives materials. Saint-Gobain SA is a French multinational that was founded in 1665 to produce the glass for the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Today, it is one of the world’s top 100 industrial corporations, producing an array of construction materials like concrete and glass and Olinyk said the transition from automotive was a smooth one.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are making widgets or trinkets or atomic bombs or jet liners,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter what the outcome product is. You really have to focus on leadership, and managing people and processes. And if you can do that, you can go into any industry and be successful.
“I don’t think industry really matters that much,” she said. “If you are going to want to take a leadership role, you have to take a leadership role no matter what it is that you are doing.”
David Rosenberg was laid off in April 2008 from CenturyTube, a steel parts manufacturer in Madison, Indiana, where he was a salesman.
Rosenberg opted to remain in the auto industry, but stopped focusing on Detroit. Because he speaks Japanese, Rosenberg was able to shift his focus to the Japanese automakers - Honda, Nissan and Toyota – which he considers in better shape than the Big Three automakers – Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. He is now a sales manager at AT-USA in Seymour, Ind., which he said does 30 percent of its business with Toyota.
For anyone in automotive considering a career change Rosenberg advises that he or she should ask the question: “Do I have to stay in automotive?”
“Consider if your skills are transferable some place else,” he said. “But if you are locked into automotive because that has always been what you do, then you have to consider what is your specialty, your niche that makes you more attractive than the next guy.”
“In the automotive industry, if you can sell yourself as being a real specialist who knows the ‘X Factor’ really well, and if you can document that, you should play to that strength.”