GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - As a boy in Rhode Island, Bob Simcox never even considered an automotive career.
'I grew up on the East Coast,' he says. 'All I could think about was shipbuilding and those kinds of things.'
He was also looking for something he found at Honda of America Manufacturing in Marysville, Ohio: an organization that values teamwork and mutual respect.
Today, Simcox, 47, wants to foster those ideals at his new job. Since 1996, he has been president of Benteler Automotive Corp., the $386 million-a-year U.S. subsidiary of Benteler AG.
Simcox joined Honda in 1979 when it built only motorcycles in Ohio. He came aboard as a welding production coordinator. But by the time he left in 1996, he was senior vice president of manufacturing for all of Honda's U.S. operations.
At Honda, Simcox found a company that held to the principles of teamwork and respect for the individual that he had been developing all his life. He had practiced them while playing sports growing up and during a stint in the Air Force.
'There is a perception that the Japanese philosophy was to teach Americans a new way of thinking,' he says. 'That's not the case. The case is: There are Americans out there that have the same way of thinking. I already had those values. The difference between the American companies back then and Honda was that Honda enabled me to use them.'
Simcox adapted well to the informal, straightforward practices at Honda. In 1988, having risen to the department-manager level in the auto plant, Simcox was approached by Scott Whitlock, the Marysville auto plant manager at the time. Whitlock said, 'Bob, you're a damn good department manager. Tomor-row you're the assistant plant manager. Congratulations.'
'The next day, I started,' Sim-cox says. He needed no instructions, and the company trusted that he knew what to do.
Simcox's informal and hands-on approach is evident at Benteler. During his first months at Benteler, he made it a point to meet with all the company's 2,000 employees and encouraged them to turn in note cards with suggestions. He has 300 so far.
'You respect all people,' he says. 'You listen to them. You encourage them to communicate. They're the experts out there.'