As a result of some mysterious process I was assigned be a foreman in the Body Shop. I only had a vague idea of what a body shop was and had no knowledge or experience related to body construction. What became immediately apparent was that the body shop was the furtherest point from the end of the production system. This was good news and bad news. The good news was the body shop was not usually on management’s radar. Unless, of course, there was a problem that impacted production in a way that would cause a loss of production at the end of the final assembly line.
The bad news was that the body shop was pretty much considered to be the red-headed step child of the production system. For salaried employees assigned to the body shop, that meant their interaction with, and exposure to, management was limited, for the most part, to the occasions when there were problems. Otherwise, it was out of sight out of mind. This would have a significant impact on opportunities for advancement. It was a paradox. The more effectively a body shop foreman did his job, the less he would be noticed. It became clear that just doing your job would not be sufficient to assure career progress. In fact, the opposite was true. If you did your job really well you could expect to retire as a body shop foreman.
The best example of this was Rudy Omen. Rudy was the current body shop foreman and was assigned the responsibility for training me and one other new hire. He had forty two years seniority with the company, most of it as a production foreman in the body shop. He started his career cutting lumber in northern Michigan for floorboards. He was deeply loyal to Henry Ford and the company. He was an excellent foreman. He always made production and was respected, and feared, by his employees. Standing about 5’4″ without a grey hair on his head, he was intimidating in a bantam rooster sort of way. He was an all business, no nonsense person.. old school for sure. His knowledge of the body shop, as well as the ins and outs of Ford Motor Company, was boundless. Like my friend Joe Clark in Nashville, Rudy’s authority and influence far exceeded his organizational position. But, after forty two years of faithful and effective service to Ford Motor Company he was still a salaried grade 6 production foreman. Fortunately, the addition of a shift provided the opportunity for Rudy to receive a promotion to General Foreman just prior to his retirement, a nice parting gift.
In fairness, I must say Rudy may have very well not wanted to be anything else but a production foreman but it was clear that if you wanted to advance at Ford Motor Company you would need to do more than a good job. What was not clear was what, exactly, was necessary for career advancement.