Now start scrubbing
When the workers returned July 26, they walked through the gates of a plant that looked as if it had never closed. Owusu was there to greet them by name and shake their hands. "People were joyous," he said.
Soon after they arrived, Owusu called a town hall meeting of the entire workforce, blue collar and white collar. He explained that the new bosses from Fiat had their own manufacturing process and it required a blindingly clean plant.
"We cleaned the outside of the property, but the inside needs a lot of cleaning, too," he told them. "So as a workforce, that's what we have to do."
Owusu shut down production for three days and handed out mops, buckets and washrags. "A lot of soap, a lot of water, a lot of scrubbing," Owusu recalled.
As all of them, including Owusu, scrubbed the grime off the place, optimism grew. "We figured if we were cleaning up and getting the grass cut," said Adams, the paint-shop worker, "that must mean they're reopening the plant permanently. And boom, they did."
At the end of August, Owusu was called to headquarters as director of manufacturing engineering. Despite the promotion, he was devastated.
"I felt like this was my family and I don't want to leave them," he said.
He consoled himself with the satisfaction that he had restored confidence in a workforce that had felt defeated by Chrysler's capitulation to Chapter 11. "As the leader of the plant at that time, I had to show my people that there was no fear," said Owusu, who now oversees the paint shops in all of Chrysler's assembly plants. "I felt like we were definitely going to come back."
High gear: A new Jeep every minute
Jason Ryska, the current plant manager at Jefferson North, keeps a baseball bat in his office to remind him of the first time he made contact with the Jeep Grand Cherokee under Fiat management.
It was on stage in an amphitheater at Chrysler's design and engineering center in Auburn Hills, shortly after Fiat took control in 2009. Marchionne, the new chief executive officer, handed Louisville Sluggers to Ryska and a gang of Chrysler executives who had survived bankruptcy.
He told them to start swinging at the Jeep that was once the pride of the fleet.
This wasn't the hot new Grand Cherokee that Ryska builds now. It was the previous model that had been compromised and cost-cut until it was stripped of its dignity and reduced to an "also-ran," as designer Ralph Gilles said.
Ryska grabbed the bat and began pounding. It was a corporate catharsis.
"We beat the hell out of that thing," Ryska recalled. "It was symbolic of what we had to do as a company: Destroy everything that we built the company on, that we held in high regard and we thought made us successful. Destroy that in order to start from the ground level and build up."