Aug. 25-- David Treadwell was the first person I heard call Sept. 11, 2001, nine-one-one, like the emergency phone number and reality TV show of the same name.
Over dinner at the Marriott hotel next to the Messe in Frankfurt, Treadwell said his son mentioned it when he called home to see how his family was and to tell them he was OK in the aftermath.
Treadwell, who this month became CEO of Oxford Automotive Inc., was one of the hundreds of Americans stranded in Europe after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington disrupted press days at the Frankfurt auto show three years ago.
We bumped into each other at the Frankfurt airport as we joined the throngs of other Americans trying to get home. But the planes werent flying to America.
Some execs scrambled to London, thinking it might be easier to get home from Heathrow or Gatwick. Others decided to take a European vacation. They drove rental cars to Munich for Oktoberfest, or took the train to Prague.
But some of us David Treadwell included just wanted to get home to our families as soon as possible, so we hung around the airport hoping for a miracle. It took a few days, but we got our miracle when an automaker gave us a lift aboard a leased Spanish airliner and used its political clout to get clearance to land in Detroit.
In the meantime, we waited. And hung around. And had dinner. And got to know one another better.
But Treadwell, at the time chairman of ASC Inc., was by no means twiddling his thumbs. He had a business to run by cell phone. He took charge and even planned a couple of alternate routes home for himself and a couple of us who had become a small band of traveling companions.
It was a challenging time for Treadwell, even before the terrorist attacks. He was dealing with the tragic loss of his friend and colleague Heinz Prechter just two months earlier. On Sept. 11, Prechters family was still sorting out the pieces of ASC, the holding company and other investments.
Having followed his father and grandfathers footsteps into real estate, Treadwell started in the business with Prechter and made his first big splash 20 years ago as director of real estate and development for ASC. He then became president of Heritage Development Group when Prechter decided to expand his real estate development activities.
Prechter promoted Treadwell, who eventually succeeded him as chairman of ASC Inc. and CEO of Prechter Holdings, the umbrella company that controlled the Prechter familys investments in newspapers, real estate, a cattle ranch in Texas and ASC.
So when Prechters widow, Wally, started divesting, Treadwell had to dismantle the empire he helped build. He was the perfect steward, ultimately selling ASC, which meant putting himself out of a job.
When I called Treadwell at Oxford on Monday to congratulate him on his new position, he answered his own phone. Its nice when the CEO of a $1 billion company does that because it shows a hand-on approach.
Privately held Oxford faces its own challenges. The company has been through six CFOs in seven years. Oxford is cash-starved and retained investment banker Goldman Sachs to peddle a couple of factories because it needs capital to finish a big venture that will supply Mercedes-Benz in Alabama. That created buzz on Wall Street that the whole company might be for sale.
The 50-year-old Treadwell must act quickly. He needs to fix the disarray in Oxfords executive suite, reshape the companys vision and then execute it. To do that, hell need the skills he developed and used at ASC and the leadership he showed after 911.
But hes the right executive to find a new route for Oxford Automotive.