Glamorous. Sensational. High-profile.
Those are just some of the words that don't appear in the job description of an automotive plant manager.
More likely descriptions for such candidates include: 'workhorse,' 'jack-of-all-trades' and 'willing to work in the trenches.'
Keystones in the auto industry, plant managers are the ones who make the wheels of the business turn - literally.
'The plant manager is leader of all,' says manufacturing consultant Al Kinzer, principal of A.O. Kinzer and Associates Inc. and former president of BMW Manufacturing Corp. in South Carolina. Kinzer also was a plant manager for Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. and began his career in human resources.
'You're in a position to be a leader and a motivator and tax the human mind constantly. It's a never-ending spiral.'
On top of overseeing production, plant managers are in charge of daily operations down to the last detail. Responsibilities include plant safety, quality, efficiency and the bottom line.
'You've got to really be able to keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time,' says Rich Gilligan, executive vice president and COO of Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. in Normal, Ill.
With all of those duties comes stress.
'They're under extreme pressure,' says Christine Greenheisen, president of Search Plus International, an executive search consulting firm in Farmington Hills, Mich. 'We have burned people out.'
So who would want such a demanding job?
Jesse Wingard does. As vice president of plant operations at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont, Calif., Wingard considers the hard work and product worth the deluge of responsibility, long hours and constant meetings.
One challenge he doesn't like: never having enough time to spend on the floor with the hourly workers - at his plant there are more than 4,000.
The time issue cuts two ways.
Frank Foley, manager of Ford Motor Co.'s Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Ky., wishes he had more time to spend with his family.
His plant operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Keeping it running keeps him at the beck and call of his job.
A typical day for Foley lasts 12 hours or more, starting at 6: 30 a.m. As for weekends and evenings, Foley finds them equally demanding.
'You can only talk to the night shift at night,' Foley points out. Even when he's on vacation, he is constantly in touch with the plant.
Manufacturers typically are seeking well-rounded individuals who have earned a degree in manufacturing engineering or related subjects, Greenheisen says. Companies also are interested in managers with a background in several different areas of manufacturing.
NUMMI's Wingard and Mitsubishi's Gilligan took their route up the automotive ladder one rung at a time. Both started as line workers for Ford.
Ric Monkaba, plant manager at GM's Pontiac East Assembly, also began as an hourly worker. Today, Monkaba makes an effort to walk the plant floor and interact with hourly employees, whom he calls the real workhorses.
Despite the long hours, Monkaba considers the hard work worth the effort.
'You've got more measurements on you than probably any business in the world,' he says. 'But there's nowhere else you can get feedback like this. You're in charge of an operation. You're making a difference.' M
Gabe Fajuri is an Automotive News special correspondent in Detroit