Neil Walling is a lifer. Freeman Thomas is a mover.
Walling, 55, vice president of exterior design, retired June 30 after 33 years with the former Chrysler Corp. and DaimlerChrysler.
On the other hand, Thomas, 41, is on the move. DaimlerChrysler just lured him away from Volkswagen AG, where he was VW chief designer in California.
Their different career paths highlight a huge cultural shift in Detroit. Job hopping has become commonplace. To varying degrees, automakers realize they need new blood to maintain a creative edge. Gone are the days when the automakers groomed talent almost exclusively from within. They are now aggressively pursuing talent from rival companies.
Some applaud the trend; they say it makes companies more creative. But one executive says it will lead to homogeneous vehicles.
'It used to be hands off,' said Kathleen Sinclair, president of Executive Recruiters International, a Detroit job placement firm that specializes in the automotive industry. 'Candidates used to be with a company for a lifetime. Now, the average is seven years. In general, the stigma has gone away from job hopping.'
The job changes that have been publicly reported represent just a fraction of the job hopping going on in the industry, said David Cole, director of the University of Michigan Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.
'There is a lot of moving at lower levels, less visible positions,' Cole said. 'It is a cultural shift, and not just in the auto industry.'
In the past, there was little hiring across company boundaries, Cole said. Recruiter Sinclair calls them gypsies.
'They have their bag of expertise and go off to whoever wants it,' Sinclair said.
Industry observers say this cultural shift will intensify for a variety of reasons:
Job hopping and job termination carry less of a stigma today.
Automakers are dangling big money to lure executives.
Young people are more willing to move from job to job, and even industry to industry.
Highly trained people are in short supply.
Employees feel less loyalty as companies merge in this period of consolidation.
Employees today are less willing to stay put when passed over for promotion.
'Everybody now realizes that they don't have a monopoly on good people,' said Robert Lutz, retired vice chairman of the former Chrysler Corp.
Arrogance used to keep automakers from looking outside for talent, said Lutz, now chairman of battery maker Exide Corp.
Only companies in trouble, like Chrysler, had to look outside for managers, he said.
Chrysler was a melting pot of executives from other companies, 'and that's one reason we were so effective,' Lutz said.
Automakers finally realized that they had to look outside their walls to find talent, said Eugene Jennings, professor emeritus of business management at Michigan State University and a former consultant to the auto industry.
'What broke through this arrogance and smugness (was that) those coming to the top were not smart enough to compete with other companies,' Jennings said.
Thomas' jump to DaimlerChrysler is just one of several recent high-profile job changes. Others include:
Vic Doolan, 58, who was president of BMW of North America Inc., jumped to Ford Motor Co.
Chris Theodore, 48, who was DaimlerChrysler's chief product-development executive, moved to Ford.
Steve Harris, 53, who was senior vice president of communications at DaimlerChrysler, went to General Motors.
A month after Harris joined GM, he hired three of his former DaimlerChrysler staffers - Tony Cervone, Tom Kowaleski, and
But not everyone sees this cultural shift as a blessing. Robert Sinclair, retired chairman of Saab Cars USA Inc., said he always was reluctant to steal from any of his competitors, and he would feel the same today.
'I looked at them as colleagues,' Sinclair recalled. 'I played golf with them. I felt it was unfair to steal a key guy from a competitor. It's not a good trend.'
The more executives who jump ship, Sinclair said, the more homogenized vehicles will become.
Sinclair, 69, recalls that in 1979, he did approach the No. 2 man at a rival company to join Saab. It appeared the executive was on a sinking ship, Sinclair said.
Said Sinclair: 'We were having dinner. He told me he couldn't leave, and that even if he were on a sinking ship, he felt it important to go down with the ship. I put my arms around him, gave him a big hug and had tears in my eyes. I can't imagine that happening today.'