When Frank Slaughter left Mazda in 1991 to join Chrysler as an assembly plant manager, he brought along some baggage. It was the kind of baggage Chrysler was eager to get.
Slaughter had worked at Mazda's plant in Flat Rock, Mich., since 1986, last serving as afternoon shift operations manager. Chrysler brought him in as manager of its plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., which built the Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance. His directive was to help elevate worker participation.
'Mazda was really big into people involvement,' says Slaughter, who is now executive co-director of the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center in Detroit. 'By involving employees in teams and having them work through problems, they came up with very lasting solutions. I carried that to the Sterling Heights plant.'
Sterling Heights had employee teams, but they were not focused, he explains. To improve them, he narrowed the teams' task to solving only those problems that surfaced in their immediate work area. It was a slow change. But by the time he left Sterling Heights five years later, 'We had been able to change the focus,' he says.
Chrysler has put Slaughter to more use. After leaving Sterling Heights in 1995, he entered employee relations, followed by a stint on the Chrysler contract negotiating team. Since February 1997, he has been with the UAW-Chrysler training center, a partnership to provide workers with added training and education, ultimately to benefit the company.
Slaughter, 55, says he feels right at home because the idea of sharing responsibility was part of the Mazda culture.
Management gave Mazda employees the opportunity to learn and grow, even if that meant making mistakes, he said. 'You want to stretch them,' he says, 'to have them come up with ideas even if those ideas are out on the edge.'