When Troy Clarke, a former General Motors executive, was hired by Navistar in Chicago five years ago, the UAW's Dennis Williams offered to help him find his way around the city.
It's that personal touch that helps set Williams apart, said Clarke, CEO of Navistar. Williams, now UAW president, is a born networker, politically savvy and well aware of the pressures that companies face from global competitors.
He also is known as a hard-nosed negotiator who is no stranger to strikes.
All of those qualities will be on display during this year's UAW contract negotiations with the Detroit 3. The negotiations kick off in earnest after next week's UAW bargaining convention in Detroit.
Williams has been on Navistar's board of directors since 2006. And last month, the company, which produces commercial trucks and engines, completed a difficult four-year contract with the UAW under circumstances that might have caused a strike a few years ago.
The UAW, Clarke said, agreed to keep bargaining for a deal even though the previous contract expired in September.
Clarke credits Williams' pragmatism and the patience of the union's bargaining team for a contract that included a raise for workers and lean-manufacturing rule changes to aid Navistar's turnaround.
"We benefited from the fact that Dennis Williams is on our board of directors," Clarke said. "He was very supportive of us taking the time needed to negotiate the right agreement, not the agreement we could have gotten -- either us or them -- by the end of September."
Williams declined to be interviewed for this report.