Mort Harris, co-founder of auto supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. and longtime philanthropist, died Wednesday, according to a statement from Northwood University. He was 101.
Harris was a decorated U.S. Army pilot during World War II and helped build American Axle after its spinoff from General Motors in 1994. He donated tens of millions of dollars to numerous nonprofits in southeast Michigan, including Wayne State University and Henry Ford Health System.
Harris, along with industrialist Ray Park and former Volkswagen executive James McLernon, partnered with the late former Chrysler Corp. manufacturing chief Richard Dauch to create American Axle from five of GM's aging powertrain operations. GM acknowledged at the time that the operations needed a massive cash infusion to become profitable -- and GM was unwilling to make those investments. So Harris and his partners made those investments.
Today, American Axle employs about 20,000 people at 80 operations in 17 countries. Dauch's son, David Dauch, is now CEO and the company expects to generate more than $5.3 billion in revenue in 2021.
“Mort was a great man and a special person that meant so much to so many," David Dauch said in a statement released by American Axle on Friday. "He certainly had a strong and positive influence on all that knew him. Mort lived an extraordinary life and was an accomplished businessman and philanthropist. His support was instrumental in the founding of American Axle & Manufacturing. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Harris family."
Harris has been one of the Detroit area's leading philanthropists for many years.
One of his more recent donations was $40 million to Henry Ford Health System, half to support cancer care and research and to name the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, named for his late wife who died of pancreatic cancer. The pavilion opened in January.
Harris has also made significant donations to a host of other nonprofits including Northwood University, Oakland Family Services, Michigan Science Center, Focus: Hope, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and The Henry Ford, among others.
Harris gained recognition early in life as a decorated U.S. Army Air Forces pilot during WWII, earning the nickname the "Berlin Kid" in recognition of his 33 successful missions over Germany.
He also led a mission over Warsaw to drop supplies and ammunition and received three Distinguished Flying Crosses, six air medals, the Polish Medal of Honor and a Presidential Citation, Northwood University said.
"Without Mort, and his generation, freedom and free enterprise are not possible," the statement read.
Automotive News staff contributed to this report.