We moved to Louisville in the Fall of 1964 after I had accepted a job as a Production Foreman in the heavy truck section of the Ford Motor Company Louisville Assembly Plant (LAP). Hiring opportunities for salaried employee production personnel were created by Ford’s decision to double the production volume of heavy trucks at LAP. Accordingly, Ford hired personnel to support the increased production.
In addition to hiring personnel, adding a shift at a production facility requires significant additions and modifications to existing systems. Existing production continued while the necessary steps to train and equip the second shift were implemented. This was particularly advantageous for us new foreman. We would have the opportunity to shadow the current foreman and also be available for classroom training etc. Hiring of hourly production employees was accomplished in a similar manner enabling each foreman to get to know their new employees. It was not until some years later that I came to understand what an advantage it was being hired in those circumstances.
There was a downside to training during a shift launch. A somewhat relaxed atmosphere which prevailed did not betray the real challenges that lay ahead. We saw some pressures and difficulties but we were exempt from any of their consequences.
Red flag. After our classroom training ended we began shadowing our production foreman mentor. In addition to following every move of our mentor we attended any regular meetings which were held after the end of the shift. (note: mandatory attendance, no overtime pay for meetings.) The first meeting I remember attending was a cost meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to review the previous week’s cost performance of our department. The meeting was held in a conference room in the in-plant office area, a spartan space that gained its name, “The Cool Room”, by virtue of being the only air-conditioned room in the area.
Attendees (foreman, general foreman, superintendent) gathered for the meeting. We waited for the arrival of members of management who would conduct the meeting. Being the first occasion for all of our department personnel,including new hires, to be together in one place, it was an opportunity for introductions and to get acquainted. The atmosphere was jovial and everyone was up beat.There was a lot of teasing and joking. It was sort of like being in a football locker room after winning the game. Then it happened.
The conference room door burst open and in came “management” : Operations Manager, Production Manager, Plant Controller and one of their minions, all dressed in white shirt, tie and suit coats. Each of them looking like Vince Lombardi after a Packer loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Their presence transformed the atmosphere in the room. Suddenly all conversation ceased. Everyone came to attention in their seats. Despite the presence of us new hires, no one asked or offered to introduce us. Apparently the assumption was that everyone knows “management” and “management” doesn’t need to know anyone.
The meeting commenced with a point by point review(think tirade complete with expletives for emphasis) of the various failures of each foreman area’s to achieve cost goals. Each foreman was expected to give an explanation for the subject failures and offer assurances to do better.Bad as the inquisition was, more revealing and disturbing was the complete abandonment of any camaraderie or mutual concern. It was also noteworthy that inquiries were not directed toward the general foreman or superintendent. It was every foreman for himself. Excuses, accusations, denial, finger pointing replaced the any goodwill that had existed, if at all. That meeting was a first glimpse of what life as a production foreman in a high pressure production environment could be.
Production Foreman Rule # 1: The buck stops with the production foreman. Or crap always runs down hill.
The honeymoon came to an end as we separated from our training bubble and became independent of the existing operations. It would not take long to realize why people said that production foreman have the most difficult job in an assembly operation.
A hint to understand how difficult it is to be a production foreman, is found in the description “production”. A production foreman’s only reason for existing is to achieve production. Production is king. If production is not achieved nothing else matters. Once you understand that priority, you then are awaken to the fact that you are a “foreman”. Foremen get workers to produce. It became clear, as a production foreman I was responsible for attaining production requirements, which I had no say or control over, with workers who I often found did not share my concern for production, and, which I had very little control over.
Production Foreman Rule #2: The inmates run the prison.