I like books about American companies and how they do what they do but I typically don't like those written by the guys or gals who actually run them.
First, most of them can't write worth a lick. I know...they get folks to help them (in this case, a fellow named Hank Cox). But, too often, those writers seem to be mostly dictation takers if the quality of their work is any indication.
Second, too many books "written" by senior execs are really boring. If you leave out the generalizations about how to be a good leader and the shop worn management cliches, you're often left with the table of contents and the index.
Third, such books tend to come across as vanity projects for retired hotshots. There's a lot of self-adulation as to what a good job they did under tough circumstances and not much of value for the reader. American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Economy
falls prey to most of these shortcoming to one extent or another but its strengths make it worth a read anyway.
Richard Dauch is a long-time auto guy. He worked for GM and Volkswagen before getting a chance to run his own store, American Axle and Manufacturing (AMM). I'm drawn to stories of heavy manufacturing, so I figured his might be an interesting one. It turns out I was right...mostly.
The story of his purchase and turnaround (two of them, actually) is, indeed, interesting. Dauch goes into enough detail as to what he did and how to keep the reader engaged. (That's not to say he went into as much detail as I would have liked...just that he told more of the story than many in his shoes do.) He has a chapter devoted to lean manufacturing. You won't learn much that you don't already know but he does give it more than a quick mention and it's apparent that he actually knows something about it. (I'm going to assume that the references to "value system mapping" were the fault of his writer.) The description of the fourteen phases of the company's Restructure, Resize, and Recover initiative that saw them through the recent recession (along with the auto company bailout), might be worth the price of the book in and of itself.
As mentioned, the book gives a good amount of detail of the AAM story. It's replete with examples, situations, illustrations, and cases. A number of the author's associates over the years were interviewed for the book and their additions are meaningful. (Many of their quotes focus on what a fine leader the author was but enough aren't to make them worthwhile over all.) The AAM story is a good narrative. In fact, I wish he had focused on that and pretty much nothing else.
My take-aways from the book are:
- You must have a cogent management system that includes attention to quality, attention to employee engagement, and continual improvement of everything.
- Senior leaders must instill vision and implement change themselves. This starts with regular and frequent face-to-face contact with everybody. (Daily plant walk-arounds were mentioned several times in the book.)
- If you don't have the resources to invest in infrastructure, technology, and people, don't even get started.
- A turn-around requires a great deal of sacrifice on the part of the management team.
The book isn't without significant problems. It would be about 70 pages shorter if it left out all the self-congratulations. I believe the author mentionds every award and honor he ever received back to the gold stars on his spelling tests in the third grade. By the last chapter, we're more than certain that he loves a challenge and sees himself as just the guy to take it on.
It's not well edited. Several times I had a feeling of deja vu...there are some episodes and lines of thought that he repeats for no apparent reason. Further, the interesting narrative of AAM is broken up by said self-adulation and general wordiness on the problems of manufacturing and challenges of management.
It's not as prone to cliche and platitude as other books I've read by retired bigwigs but it's got its share. Hint to every aspiring CEO cum writers nowhere
in your book should appear the words "human resources" in proximity to "greatest asset".
The chapter on the future of manufacturing is the usual National Association of Manufacturers' boilerplate. (I found it odd that, having written a story about how a good management system, hard work, and continual communication of the vision can be so effective, the author didn't take the chance to tell other manufacturers to get off their fat butts and do the same. Easier to complain about taxes and health care for sick kids, I guess.)
In spite of these issues, I'd recommend the book to manufacturing managers. It's a quick read and there's enough of value here to make it worth your time.