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Where most people see a roadblock, Mary Buchzeiger sees an opportunity. Her infectious optimism and willingness to step into uncertain situations have propelled her career in automotive leadership. Jan welcomes the longtime CEO of Lucerne International for a frank and intimate discussion about navigating the turbulent auto industry.
From Lucerne’s recent decision to onshore manufacturing to the inner workings of its entrepreneurial operating system, Mary shares how her company has kept a focus on the future while adjusting to challenging situations in the present.
Effective ten-year plans may seem like a pipe dream to some automotive suppliers, but Mary demonstrates how a positive team culture with high accountability can yield results in any business climate.
“We've got crisis after crisis that we deal with just like any other business,” Mary says. She says it’s not always easy to set aside time to dream, plan and work on the business. Yet without making time for strategic projects, a business is doomed to stagnate and fail.
On this insightful episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast, Jan draws out the details of Mary’s most daunting professional challenges and her unwavering commitment to her family.
Themes discussed on this episode:
- Why onshoring manufacturing is growing in popularity
- The importance of an entrepreneurial operating system
- How to set goals as a company — and stick to them
- Best practices for leading people in difficult times
- Tips for successfully managing career and family
Featured Guest: Mary Buchzeiger
What she does: Mary is the CEO of Lucerne International, a Michigan-based global automotive supplier specializing in castings, forgings and stampings. She sits on the Automotive Hall of Fame’s board of directors, and her numerous accolades include her recognition in Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Automotive Industry.
On leadership: “My team and I spend a lot of time planning and looking at the future [...] Our business has an operating system. We use this framework to really help build our vision and make sure that we're all rowing in the same direction in the same boat. We all know exactly where we're going.”
Timestamped inflection points from the show
[2:04] Gray area: Mary admits that she struggled with the black-and-white world of mechanical engineering early in her career. This dissatisfaction propelled her transition into company leadership.
[4:01] Localizing for North America: Lucerne is onshoring manufacturing for the first time in 20 years while still embracing the global automotive industry. Jan and Mary discuss the industry’s progression and why onshoring is gaining popularity.
[7:43] ‘It takes guts to stop’: How does a company break from routine and pivot its strategy? Mary shares her experience with creating an entrepreneurial operating system and the inspiration she’s drawn from Gino Wickman’s “Traction.”
[11:02] Let’s get real: Jan asks how in the world a leader is supposed to protect time for goal setting when there are so many other issues to discuss in a quarterly meeting. Mary shares her accountability tips and says sticking to “rocks” must be non-negotiable.
[16:34] Squirrel alert!: Jan emphasizes the importance of modeling the behavior of planning for the future, and Mary offers a creative method to stay on track.
[19:33] ‘Running the ship together’: Trust, openness and surrounding yourself with the right people — Jan presses Mary to share how she achieves that at Lucerne.
[22:36] Managing people: Mary says the biggest challenge facing leaders in the automotive industry is “leading through change.” Jan and Mary discuss best practices for a remote workforce.
[28:01] 21 traits: Which of the 21 traits of authentic leadership resonates the most with Mary? Resilience — and she has several powerful stories to explain why.
[31:06] Keep the glass half full: Jan and Mary explore how to motivate people in scary situations. Mary reveals her secret to keeping the team together.
[32:28] On the homefront: Mary’s grateful for her husband’s support. She opens up about when she realized how hard it was to be a stay-at-home parent and shares how she and her husband keep communication lines open.
[39:33] Advice for auto industry leaders: Mary gets candid about managing a career and family, and offers advice that applies to everyone.
[46:03] Closing comments: Mary encourages listeners to seek opportunities even in a crisis.
[10:49] “One of the most important things that you can do is surround yourself with people that will both challenge you as well as believe in you, and believe in the vision that you have set out and work together to achieve that vision.”
[20:43] “Culture is everything for us. We hire, fire and even pick customers and suppliers by our core values. And we stick to those core values. We all live by them.”
[21:26] “If I'm the smartest person in the room, I'm doing something wrong. I need experts around me. I need people that are going to advise me, people who aren't afraid to say, ‘No, I don't think that's right,’ and disagree with me. That's really important.”
[40:42] “Work-life balance is not a balance. Stop saying that. It’s a choice, right? You are going to make the choices that you're going to make. And sometimes you have to choose your family.”
[46:29] “Never waste a good crisis, because there's always opportunity in the middle of a crisis. So while everybody else is panicking and scrambling, just squint real hard and you can see those opportunities that are out there.”
Mentioned in this episode:
Welcome to the automotive leaders podcast, where we help you prepare for the future by sharing stories, insights and skills from leading voices in the automotive world with a mission to transform this industry together. I'm your host, Jan Griffiths, that passionate, rebellious farmer's daughter from Wales, with over 35 years of experience in our beloved auto industry, and a commitment to empowering fellow leaders to be their best authentic selves. Stay true to yourself, be you and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership. Let's dive in.Jan Griffiths:
Today, you'll get to know Mary Buchzeiger, CEO of Lucerne International. A well established auto supplier with a solid grounding in the fundamentals of day to day business in this ever changing landscape we live in, in the auto industry. And she keeps a steady eye on the future. And you'll learn all about that and how she does that. Mary has cracked the code on that delicate balance of working in the business and working on the business. How dare she lead her team through turbulent times, you'll hear some stories around that topic, and some of them might shock you. Get ready to take notes on the unique and creative way her team calls out undesirable behavior that can derail a meeting and waste time. We delve into her personal life oh yes, we do. We find out more about the unwavering support of her husband and her family. And, we find out what Mary does for fun. Mary, welcome to the show.Mary:
Oh, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.Jan Griffiths:
I have to know. You're the CEO of Lucerne International. But you started life as an engineer. A mechanical engineer with Dura. Tell us about that. Why did you pick that as your first choice for a career step?Mary:
Oh, gosh, I'm still wondering that. You know what I loved math and science in school. I loved watching how things work. I was always in the advanced math classes and advanced science classes. And quite frankly, I just remember talking to my counselor in high school, and they said, Gosh, you really need to go into engineering. And I ran with it. So you know, my father's been in the automotive industry. And I've worked for him since I could walk, talk and breathe. I was free labor at a young age. And I was really always around mechanical, you know, moving things. And I just enjoyed it in the beginning.Jan Griffiths:
You know, engineers are obviously technically competent, right. And they tend not to live too much in the gray area. They like things to be black and white. When you're a leader, and you're a CEO of a large company, you have to live in the gray area, and you have to deal with people. Not all the engineers out there can make that transition. How did you make that transition? What were some of the things you were grappling with?Mary:
Well, I actually struggled with the engineering black and white side of things my entire life or my early career. So it wasn't too hard for me to make that transition. I started with my internship at Dura working as a design engineer. So I would sit in this dark room in this space by myself for hours on end. And I'm not that kind of person. I'm a people person. So that was one of my biggest struggles even begin with with engineering. And that black and white world that get I love I love knowing answers. But the end of the day, like you just said, you know, there's a whole lot of gray area in life. Not everything is black and white. So that transition was pretty easy for me.Jan Griffiths:
That's great. So tell us about Lucerne. I mean, I've heard about Lucerne. We're the audience is no stranger to the automotive industry. But refresh our memories for those of us who might not know too much about it.Mary:
Yeah, so Lucerne, we do castings, forgings and stampings. We're in the chassis, power train and body structural areas. We are a global company. Right now we are doing about 90% of our manufacturing offshore. So there's some really exciting things to come right now because we're onshoring for the first time in 20 years. I'm building a facility here to onshore a bunch of work and localize. I just made a small acquisition to vertically integrate a piece so I'm bringing it piece by piece back on shore. And that's really the story about we're continuing to grow as a tier two and tier one supplier. Mostly our biggest commodity right now is how to aluminum forgings in the control arm and knuckle space.Jan Griffiths:
Onshoring that's a trend, isn't it?Mary:
I don't necessarily and I use that word lightly. I think that's the best word to use really, because we're going to continue to grow globally, we have customers globally, the automotive industry is a global industry. Really, we're localizing. So rather than having all of our eggs in the offshore basket, we're localizing for our North American customers.Jan Griffiths:
You know, Mary, when I was in my purchasing days, and I'll go back to maybe the early 2000s, maybe, maybe mid 2000s, early 2000s. I remember we used it used to be a sort of badge of honor as to what percentage of your spend was in China, or what percentage of your spend was offshore? And I remember meeting some guy, I don't even remember who it was. And he said something like, Oh, it's 70%, you know, and I felt awful, because I didn't have anywhere near that. But I couldn't, I found it difficult to push all that spend offshore, there were challenges. There's inventory pipelines, there's a supply is not understanding automotive, in terms of the technical requirements, let, it's not just the language, it's the technical requirements, and you know, all these problems, and on and on, and on and on. And the total acquisition cost was way out of whack. And I always thought to myself back then, you know, this is gotta change, this is gonna swing back the other direction. And here we are, right?Mary:
Yeah, yeah, that was the same thing really, that happened to us at one point in time, I think it was, this is going back now. So it was around 1994. We did everything locally. So it was all domestic supply chains, everything we did was either between here or you know, the furthest offshore we did was Canada. So Canada, the United States. And quite frankly, we just saw our business moving offshore. So right around 1998, 1999. And that was really sink or swim for us. And in 2003, I decided, heck, we just need to do what everybody else is doing. And that otherwise we lose the work. So you know, pick, pick and hold what we could and go offshore. And it worked for us for the last 20 years, we've been very successful at it. But as you know, what's happening today with a global logistics crisis, all the risk in the supply chains, just that complete uncertainty and really blaring holes right in the supply chains, as well as China's not the cheapest country anymore. You've got this burgeoning middle class, you've got electric costs going up, just the logistics, and tariffs alone will kill you. So you're right, it did come back. And here we are saying, oh, gosh, we need to manufacture here. But the problem is, there's no supply chain left in the US. Manufacturing is gone and we have to rebuild that footprint, which is what we're trying to do one step at a time.Jan Griffiths:
Mary as a leader in automotive, and there's a lot of leaders out there right now. And they're faced with this challenge, just like you say, you know, the the supply chain coming out of China is a lot more expensive. There's let alone the whole EV transformation. There's so much happening that the work culture is changing. It takes guts to say, Stop, wait a minute, the world is changing. We need to adjust. We need to transform, we need to change our strategy, we need to do something. How do you do that? How did you do that with your team? Because it's so easy to just keep doing what you're doing right? And just say, Oh, well, we'll just stay on the treadmill and keep doing what we're doing. And I'll be fine. Automotive isn't changing that much. Okay, so there's some EV product out, right? But no, I mean, you've got to stop that your team dead in their tracks and say, hold up, we got to do something different. How did you do that? Because I really want our listeners to learn from that experience. Tell us about that.Mary:
Yeah, no problem. So we actually started down a localization path pre COVID. My team and I spend a lot of time planning and looking at the future, looking at what we've done in the past, looking at where the industry is at looking at where the industry go is going. And we spent a lot of time really working on that we actually, I don't know if you've heard of it before, but we use EOS. It's this book written by Gino Wickman. Traction and as the Entrepreneurial Operating System. So, that you know like your computer has an operating system. Our business has an operating system. And we use this framework to really help build our vision, make sure that we're all rowing in the same direction in the same boat. We all know exactly where we're going. And we're highlighting issues and highlighting things that we need to continue to improve upon as we go through this. But really what we did now, gosh, six years ago is we set this big 10 year target to be at a certain point. And then you break it down into well, in three years. What does that look like to get to the 10 year target? Well, in the next year, what do we have to do to get to that three year and then the next quarter? What do we have to do to achieve those year goals that we set out, which really just builds this framework for us to continue to look in the future. We do these planning sessions annual planning, quarterly planning. We do SWOT analysis, we look at the industry, we look at our business, we look at geopolitics, you know, we're a global business, and we really analyze and dig deep into where we think we need to be to be successful. And sometimes that means pivoting, really pivoting, you know, in 2018, when the section 301 tariffs were thrown on pretty much overnight, and all of our businesses offshore, that was a big wake up call for us to say, oh, gosh, we need to pivot. We really need to work fast to change the way we're doing business to reorganize ourselves renegotiate customer contracts. So I really contribute our success to that framework. And my team, I just have an amazing team, it's one of the most important things you can do is surround yourself by people that will both challenge you as well as believe in you and believe in the vision that you have set out and work together to achieve that vision.Jan Griffiths:
All right, I want to go You said a lot there. But I want to go one level deeper. So you talked about EOS, right. And you talked about setting goals, tenure. And then you said five years I think, ten, three, one, quarterly, and quarterly. Okay. Right, quarterly. So let's be let's get into the real world right. Now, that quarterly meeting is coming up. How on earth do you protect that time? When you've got customers beating on you, you've got supply chain issues, you've got raw material issues. There's a lot of shit happening in automotive industry today, right? It's going to be so easy. And a lot of leaders out there are saying Oh, yeah, well, we'll just push that off till next month, or maybe later in the year or whatever. How do you stay true to that process? Mary, come on, tell us.Mary:
You know what, we, it is non negotiable. Our team holds each other accountable. It's not negotiable. We have what in EOS, they're called rocks, right? Instead of goals, we set our rocks. And we actually meet we meet every week, once a week, the meeting is at the same time, every week, for the exact same amount of time with the exact same agenda, we review our scorecards, our issues, we look at our rocks, and the progress we've made towards those rocks. And each one of my team members has two to three rocks that we're working on to further the business. And we say, you know, it's not working in the business, it's working on the business. So we're the shareholders were the stakeholders we're everything of the business, and we need to work on it. The in the business, that's the day to day activity that fills up 85% of our time. But we really put working on the business as a top priority, and again, hold each other accountable to ensuring that we're continuing to make baby steps and meet those goals as they come up.Jan Griffiths:
How would you do that? How would you hold each other accountable? Accountability is a hot topic these days.Mary:
You know, it is but it's when it's when it's ingrained in your culture, it's not so hard, because everybody in the organization has a number. And by that, I mean that we've got data, right? We collect the data, we analyze the data, and we're all working towards these numbers of these goals, whatever that goal may be. And the proof is in the pudding, right? The numbers not there, something's going wrong. So then we analyze that we smoke out those issues. If there's an issue, we address it, if it's a people issue, well, then we you know, we have the hard conversations and continue down that path. And in the end, if it doesn't work out, then you know, that's not the right cultural fit for us. But really, it's just it's constantly knowing where you're at using the data to analyze that and you hold yourself accountable, right, if you know, whatever this this is that you're supposed to be measuring, and you're supposed to be at 100, and you're consistently at 50, week after week, then there's an issue there, and we need to do something about it.Jan Griffiths:
You know, when I hear the EOS system, I tend to think of it in terms of small business. Right, because I first started to get some exposure to it when I started my business. I don't think of it when I think of a decent sized tier one or tier two company. But I absolutely love the idea that you're applying that methodology within the automotive tier one, tier two space. I think that's, that's fascinating.Mary:
Right, but it takes a tremendous amount of leadership, grit, guts and determination, to keep working on those strategic projects, those projects that are going to move you forward in the future. And so many companies are not doing that. Because it's easy to slide into that, oh, my gosh, we got all these day to day things. We can't We can't afford to be doing that right now. You can't afford to not do that right now. It's about moving the business forward. Right?Mary:
So when we started with EOS, we were a much smaller company. And that framework is what helped us get to where we are. I mean, it's no different. I've read the Rockefeller principles scaling up all of those things are kind of all the same concept. And we do use pull other tools from different sets like scaling up Rockefeller, like I mentioned, different, you know, business principles, but at the end of the day, they're all kind of the same, right? It's set your goals, make it happen, look at the data, review your sort of scorecards and hold your people accountable. It doesn't get much simpler than that. I think when you boil all of those things down to the basics.Mary:
Yeah, you say that. And we actually had this conversation because my team earlier this year was really overwhelmed, right, with the logistics problems. And like, you know, I don't even have to go through it. All of the issues that we're seeing in the industry, Chip shortages, schedules up and down logistics crisis, material shortages, you name it. And that was, I think, our very first quarterly, that was one of the complaints, you know, they're like, we're overwhelmed. How are we going to get this done? What all that and I said, Okay, what's going to happen if you don't get it done? Oh, well, but we need to get that done. Yeah. But what's going to happen, if you don't, your life isn't gonna get any easier, the things you're doing day to day are not going to improve this business is not going to move forward, all these things that we've got set out. So we didn't have to have nice, long, hard talks, you know, as a leadership team, about really the importance of staying on track and staying that path at the end of the day. And it is hard. You're right. I mean, we've got, you know, crisis after crisis that we deal with just like any other business, and setting that time aside, to continue to work on the business and do the things that we need to do the hard things at times. It's tedious sometimes to do that, but it's worth it in the end.Jan Griffiths:
It comes down to modeling the behavior. And it's your leadership, and this is the way we do it. This is part of our culture, we're going to have this meeting, no matter what it's going to happen. And then when people see that and feel that, then I think it's easy, it's easier for them to, to, I hate to say fall in line, but you know, fall in line and follow the process. It's those leaders that succumb to the pressures of the day to day and don't have that one eye, looking onward and upward. Those are the leaders that are going to they're going to struggle in the future. So if there's one thing that one message from our conversation so far that I want to get out to our audiences, please create that space, create the time for those strategic projects, as you say that it's going to make life better.Jan Griffiths:
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Absolutely. I can't put it any better. Right? You just you have to continuously look into the future. Although I think that that's one of my weaknesses is my team makes fun of me, we have these little, little foam toys, if you will, in our conference room. So we've got a squirrel that I get thrown at me occasionally because I go off on a tangent. So squirrel alert, we've got this elephant for elephant in the room. A bowl for you know, somebody's talking bowl here, we need to put it aside. So we've got all these kind of little, Hey, pick it up and shake it and it cuts through the tension. And everybody laughs a little so yeah, but that squirrel syndrome, I get that.Jan Griffiths:
But I love that. Because Mary, that is so powerful. Because it's a way of calling out a behavior. That's first of all that rule in that approach is accepted by everyone. So instead of that behavior, going unmatched, you know, nobody's going to nobody's going to deal with it. Right? And normally, that's what happens. People don't deal with those awkward situations right there on the spot. Right? The meeting goes on. And let's say you were in your squirrel mode, and you will go on off, right? You just keep on going and everybody's sitting there go on. Because she just come back. And nobody says anything. Right? So you, you know you you're wasting time you're not being efficient. And this is all about it's all about speed and efficiency and being agile. And so the fact that you've created an environment that's comfortable enough for people to feel safe to throw a squirrel at you is fantastic. Yeah, I love it.Mary:
Thanks. Yeah, I do have a that is the one thing that we've worked on for a really long time is is the trust and openness of the team. And that's the number one role, right? Like I'm not when we get in that room together. I'm not the CEO or all running this ship together. And honest and open feedback is what we aim for. For every single meeting. We put each other we check each other quite a bit, right. It's like hey, you're this is this isn't on topic, we need to move on, save it set up a meeting with with somebody at the end, just we need to move on. We're pretty good at calling each other out and really being efficient. At the end of the day, nobody's feelings get hurt anymore. Once you get that culture and you start rolling through it, it gets to be a really productive environment.Jan Griffiths:
I love it. Now, you said you talked about it's important to have the right people around you. Yeah. How do you do that? First of all, what are the right people? What does that mean, in Mary's world? What does that mean? Because I can ask 15 people that question and I'll get 15 different answers. So what does that mean? And then how do you find them? How do you get them?Mary:
So for me, and for Lucerne, for our organization, culture is really everything for us, we hire, fire, even pick customers and some hires by our core values. And we stick to those core values. And we all live by them. We've do this people analyzer, which I believe is an EOS tool. We really analyze everybody by each of the core values, if they understand it, if they get it if they fit into it kind of a red, yellow, green scheme. And that first and foremost is most important picking based on our culture, based on our core values, what we're trying to do and accomplish here. Because as you know, one bad seed can really spoil it for everybody and create a harsh environment unnecessarily. And then my rule of thumb is that if I'm the smartest person in the room, I'm doing something wrong. So I need experts around me, I need people that are going to advise me people that aren't afraid to say, No, I don't think that's right and disagree with me. That's really important. And in any of my leaders here, the organization, it's a very important trait that we work together, and that we challenge each other.Jan Griffiths:
If I'm the smartest person in the room, then I'm doing something wrong. That's deep and that's good. How many people can say that, and honestly, mean that and push their ego aside? Because we've all got an ego, we all have one, it's part of being human. It's how much of that you let drive your behaviors and drive who you are, is the question. And when you can push that aside, and say, No, no, I need people in this room that are smarter than me. That's leadership.Mary:
Thank you. All right. Yeah, it's worked so far. So gotta be doing something right.Jan Griffiths:
Yeah, would it be so, would it be so. Mary, what do you think, is the biggest challenge right now that leaders are faced with in the automotive industry? There's so many of them, there's oh, what's the biggest? Let's frame it up in terms of leadership?Mary:
Ah, you know, what I think leading through change is what everybody's struggling with. So we talk about the disruption in the industry, put ICE versus BEV aside, just that disruption alone is this industry that's in complete turmoil, trying to basically rediscover and reimagine itself, just stack on top of that, what's happened from COVID, with the ups and downs of supply chains, all the risk involved kind of all these moving pieces. But at the end of the day, I think leaders biggest challenge is always people, right? Because the business is nothing without people. So, you know, how do you manage your people? How do you keep them encouraged through all of this transformation? And how do you keep them engaged and motivated? The remote working environment? Wooo, that is a whole, you know, we've we've always been global. So we're used to the teams in the zooms. And that right, because I've got a whole team in Shanghai that works with my team very closely here. And you know, we've got global customers. So that's one thing, but then having your actual team torn apart, and in different places, and some people working from home some days and managing that, and keeping your culture really solid at the same time. I think it's probably one of the most challenging things that I've been through in my career is maintaining that solidarity with my organization with so many people in so many different places, and not here all together all the time.Jan Griffiths:
Any best practices, tips and tricks, anything that you've learned that you'd like to share.Mary:
You know why I mean, this is the smallest simplest thing, but we're [always the best.] We have meetings, your cameras on. I don't care if you're sitting there with your hair in a bun and you're one eye closed or what I don't care. Let's just turn your humor on. Because I want to see you it makes it just a little tiny bit more personal. In those things are funny, right? Like your husband walks by in his underwear and you get to make fun of them for the next you know, six months. I mean, it's funny It just builds those personal relationships and you at least get some smidgen of what you used to have when you're going to the break room to grab a coffee and run into somebody. Right?Jan Griffiths:
Yeah, I agree. I love camera on. Although I have to admit, there are some meetings where you just have to listen. And you can multitask if it's a meeting where you need to contribute, and you're engaged. Absolutely. But if it's one of those meetings, where you just need to listen to the message, and you can multitask. It's almost like a video podcast, right?Mary:
Yeah. That's my problem with it. That's why I make everybody turn their goods. Because if you're in a meeting with me, it means that you're supposed to be in the meeting actually paying attention. Otherwise, you shouldn't be in the meeting with me. Like, why have the meeting? Why, why why have the meeting. That's useless. And that's probably my biggest frustration with the remote workforce is you know, people are multitasking because you go, you know, hey, Joe, Joe, Joe, it'd be like, oh, yeah, sorry. I was on mute. I know. Play with the dog. I don't know where you went?Jan Griffiths:
That right. Sorry. I was on mute. Yeah, translation. Sorry, I was checking my email and my Facebook and I wasn't paying any attention whatsoever.Mary:
Can you repeat that? No, answer the question.Jan Griffiths:
But I just think this is this is also a perfect time actually put a post out this morning on LinkedIn about meetings. And so often, again, we go into this, you know, we've always done it this way. We've always had this meeting, we've always followed this agenda. This is a perfect time to just stop, we're coming to the end of the year, stop. Look at your schedule people and and look at the meetings, are they meaningful? Are they accomplishing something? Are you moving the needle? Or you're not? Is that a meeting? That's more of a meeting to update the boss? You know, somebody called me out on that once? And I'm so I'm so glad that they did. They said to me, You know what, Jan, I think that, you know, we're just doing that where this meeting is just to update you on what we're doing. We could do it in like a simple email. And I thought, Oh, that's true. I had to admit it. They were right. They were right, you know, and I said, You know what, you're absolutely right, we will cancel the meeting. But that's the kind of culture that you want, right? So that somebody that sees something that you didn't see it, I didn't see it until they brought it to my attention. Soon as it came to my attention. I'm on it. You're exactly right. Let's cut that meeting out. But that's the kind of culture that we want. We want people to challenge us. And in the auto industry, we're horrible at that. Because it's all about command and control. It's, you know, many of us are like, Hey, I'm the boss, you do what I tell you, you need to do this is how you would do it. And in some cases, it's not only what you need to do, it's how you should do it, which is the worst possible scenario, anyway.Mary:
Procedures like crazy all of the processes and procedures and follow this. And that's not the way it's done. You have to do this first. There's a cuts out creativity and efficiency.Jan Griffiths:
Let's talk about the 21 traits of authentic leadership. This something that's near and dear to my heart. What was your topic? What's your number one?Mary:
Oh, you know what I wrote down? Resilience?Jan Griffiths:
Tell us why.Mary:
Yeah. Well, first of all, just being in the automotive industry for as long as I have being a young woman in the industry coming up from a very young age making my way through, and there's been a lot of changes, but boy, oh, boy, you know, when I first started, it was the old boys club. Changed a little I still think we're seeing little improvements here and there. But really, just the different stages. And I think it's really any entrepreneur can grasp on to that resilience kind of trait. There was something in particular, though, that happened to us in 2018. Didn't happen to us, we allowed it to happen to us, but we had a customer behave very poorly, in 2018. And we long story short. They were just about to go through bankruptcy, we really didn't know they were playing all sorts of games with us. And we almost lost everything. And I mean, everything. We ended up having to go to court. I think the good Lord, I have an amazing legal team. We had a judge that really understood the case, we ended up I sat on a stand for over six hours, you know, testifying I mean, it was crazy. At any rate, we had to restructure at the end of 2018 and go from here down to the bottom and kind of work our way up and my entire executive team. It was a situation where we just couldn't win what we did. It was like a Hail Mary pass. It was crazy, actually. And really watching my team go through all of that, and understanding both when I was made of what my team was made of. I had my executive team show up every single day for over six weeks without a paycheck. They didn't know if they were gonna get paid. They came to work every day for over six weeks. until we thankfully the court awarded us the funds that made the customer buy inventory, I can make them whole. But just going through that, and then rebuilding this organization in stronger than we were before and seeing where we came from what we went through taking those lessons learned, and 2019 we restructured, 2020 And we got hit by COVID. There it goes are you know, we lost a quarter of our sales 2021. That's crazy logistics that's happening, Chip shortages, we lost another quarter of sales, logistics costs were skyrocketing. I mean, just the turbulence. And I think that's probably the best word to describe it just bumpy that we've been through over the last couple of years. And we're still here, not only are we here, but we're actually thriving, and we're growing, and we're doing fantastic. So that word just resonates with me. Not just for myself, but really for my team to I've got an amazing leadership team.Jan Griffiths:
They showed up every day for six weeks without knowing if they were gonna get paid.Mary:
Wooooh! Yeah. How do you do it? Mary? How do you when these situations? Are you going through these situations you're facing losing everything, right? How do you get up in the morning, and motivate a team of people when you're you've got to be scared yourself? You have to be because you're human? How do you do that? How do you motivate a team in a situation like that?Mary:
I'm always a glass half full kind of person. I've always been that way. And I always, you know, I say yes, that could happen. But it's not going to listen, this is what we're going to do. And I think for me, just making a plan. And following a plan and showing a pathway to get somewhere is good for me mentally. And I think that it motivates my team members, right? They see a path, they see the plan. And if they see me believing in it and saying, Listen, guys, we got it. I know all this other stuff is happening. Don't worry, I'll handle it, we'll get it, we'll make our way through it. And it's really just talking out loud when sometimes you don't even believe it yourself. But you're like, I gotta gotta get these people there. So let's go right? Just keeping that attitude and that mindset, it's the end of the day, you know, go home, and I don't drink anymore, but at the time, go home and drink a bottle of wine and go to bed for the night.Jan Griffiths:
Yeah. Oh, that's incredible. Let's take a turn into your personal life. You afraid? Be afraid? No. I won't be too harsh on you. So you're going through this? You're going through this tough time in your company, right? What's the support, like at home?Mary:
Amazing. So my husband has been pretty much just the rock of our family. We have three beautiful children. I've spent the last I don't know, basically 20 years, 18 years traveling around the world growing a business. I moved my family to Shanghai for a short amount of time in 2018. They've just been they've always been there. My husband has just been incredibly supportive. He's raised our children, and I don't have to worry about things, nor do I ever get blowback from him like, Oh, you gotta go on a business trip again. Instead, he's like, Okay, bye. Good luck. Have a great trip. Let me know how it goes. You know, what, you just don't find a lot of that support. And I can't, I can't give him enough credit for where I'm at. Because without him, I wouldn't be able to build the business won't be able to have a thriving family and make it all work. So it's teamwork. We say team buch in our house. It's our team.Jan Griffiths:
I love it. He's a pretty interesting dude isn't he is the professional boxer.Mary:
He was. So he's a retired professional boxer. Yeah, he retired right when we met actually, when I met him, I was just buying gym works for a competitor's gym. I was just buying a Kick, Kickboxing gym, and in West Bloomfield, I was an amateur boxer. And we were introduced to each other. But he had just retired.Jan Griffiths:
You know, people talk about the role reversal, right to the woman having the career and the guy being a stay at home dad. And I had that situation many years ago, my daughter's 20 now, and I'm no longer married, but when she was born, we made the decision that he would stay home. And I'll be the first to admit that I completely underestimated how hard it was to, to stay at home with a child. And he worked as well. He went to his employer. He was a program manager at the time and he went to his employer and he said, Hey, you know, I'm going to quit my job because I'm going to be a stay at home dad and they said, no, no, no, you can do both. And he said, okay, and that all seemed great to us at the time. And I completely underestimated how hard that was for him. And I don't know that I've ever told him that. So basically, we listen to this podcast, he's gonna go. Finally, 20 years later, she gets it. But it is really, really hard. And I think about that now as whether male or female working from home mom or dad, whatever. It's hard to look after a child and work. It depends on the age of the child, but a very, very young child, it's it's almost impossible to look after a toddler and work. I don't know how people do it.Mary:
Yeah, I would definitely not be productive. I have a funny story about that. Because I think we're early on I probably took my husband for granted too, right? Staying home with the kids because he quit. He had a thriving business. He was a personal trainer, trying to allow people to train some local professional athletes with the pistons with red wings. And he gave it all up to stay at home. Because you know, we had basically two nannies one coming in the morning to take the kids to daycare, one coming to pick the kids up and bring them home and cook them dinner. And we'd have like two hours with our children every night. And he said, This is ridiculous. I don't want other people raising our kids. But I just remember it was I was traveling a lot. And we went up north we used to have a house up in Sheboygan. And my kids were toddlers at that time, I think maybe like two, three and six. And he was like, well, I'll go to the grocery store and get groceries. Right and you just whatever. And I'm like if I find it. And I hate to admit this, because I never really spent a lot of time alone with my kids when they were toddlers. And I remember he came back 30 minutes later, the kids are all crying. I'm losing my mind. I'm like, I don't know how to do this all day. It's just ridiculous. Like, holy crap. And I think it was that moment on where I just had a whole new respect for that man was like, wow, this is not easy work. Two hours a night is not the same with tag team, right? It's not the same as doing it by yourself.Jan Griffiths:
Alright, so this might be too personal, but we'll try it. That's okay. So how do you how do you keep the communication lines open? Because there are frustrations, just like the one you just talked about? How do you make sure that you keep the communication lines open to keep the marriage intact? Because clearly I failed at that miserably. Right. But how do you how do you do that?Mary:
You know, we're really good at it. Honestly, we're so brutally honest with each other. And as we don't let things fester, like if something is bothering me, he's gonna know right away. And if it's bugging him, I know right away. And quite frankly, I mean, I knock on wood on this one. But like we don't, we don't fight we don't you know, we don't have blow ups because we never let anything build and builds and builds. I mean, we're like anybody else where we snap occasionally. But then we make fun of each other for it. Right? So communication is is the single most important thing that we can do especially kind of 17 year old daughter at home and boy, boy, she likes to play play us both right? Well, Dad said, Well, mom said, and we're like, Huh? Text, I'm texting daddy right now. So we overly communicate, I think we constantly talk about we make decisions together. And that's the end of it, right? And if one of us wasn't gonna run off and do something stupid or big without consulting the other, and it's easy, honestly, for us, I think we're just blessed and really lucky. But it took us a long time to get there. In the beginning, there was definitely bumps and rocks along the way. And we've just gotten to a point now where, you know, we know what it takes to to be successful as a couple and as a family, I think.Jan Griffiths:
It takes a lot of work. I'll tell you one funny story. This is going back a long, long time ago. So my husband at the time was in Mexico on a business trip, which normally was the other way around, right? Normally, I would be the one on the business trip, and he would be at home. But he was in Mexico on a business trip. And I was at home. And we had this new washer and dryer. I don't know we've maybe had it a few months. I mean, it wasn't like brand new, right? And I looked at that bloody thing. And it was a Bosch. And I'm like how on hell do you work this? I had no idea. I meanMary:
What button do I push?Jan Griffiths:
It was you know, typical fine German engineering, right? It was a brilliant piece of equipment, but it was not user friendly at all. And I had to text him. Or if I probably called him or something at the time and said, How do you use the washing machine? No clue.Mary:
Amazing. Love that.Jan Griffiths:
So you've got women that you're, you know, helping to bring into the automotive industry to bring onto your team? How do you support them when they're dealing with these issues? Because I noticed that with with my team and my last job is young mothers with children dealing with a lot of the same issues that I did when I started my career and having children. So how do you help nurture them along. And you said, here's the thing, Mary, and I know you've you've, you've seen this and maybe felt this. Sometimes women feel like they got to make a choice between a career and being a mom. And I hate that, right? Because you, you can do both. There's ways to make that happen. So what advice do you give women that you bring into the organization, or women out there that are dealing with this right now?Mary:
I mean, I don't think it's just gender specific to you. Because I think nowadays men have the same issue, right? Like, I think that there's men that want to be home with their kids and feel maybe guilty about it, right? I mean, we've got, we've got people here, like, No, you know, I got my son sick, I have to go home, my wife is out of town, whatever that is, for me. And it's funny, because there's this work life balance, work life balance, it is not a balance. So stop saying that it's a choice, right? Like you are going to make the choices that you're going to make. And sometimes you have to choose your family. Sometimes I'm sorry, I can't make it to that meeting. Because my daughter has a dance recital, you know, I have to go here. And that's just the way it is. Sometimes you have to put that first. But sometimes there's an emergency at work where you're like, Oh, my son's birthday is tomorrow. But I have to be in Mexico, because there's a customer problem, right? I mean, those are the choices that you make. And I always tell people, and I've spoken to women's groups about this before, don't feel guilty about your choices, those are your choices, right? Just make the choice. And don't feel bad about it. Because these are the things that you have to do in life. If in fact, you feel like you have to choose between being a mother and being a career, you know, having a career. It's not that simple. You can either choose to stay home with your children, if you can do that, right and just be comfortable again, with that choice. Or you want to go to work every day and you love working 40 hours a week, you just feel bad that your child is in daycare or whatever it is, but you know, that's that guilty, nagging feeling. It's like you're making that choice and you're making your child's life better by making a living and also showing your children what it takes to make it in the world and work hard. So again, it's just being comfortable with the choices you make a think is the most important thing that I tried to get through to people not just women but everybody in general.Jan Griffiths:
Solid advice, solid advice. Let's talk about some fun fun stuff. What do you like to do for fun Mary?Mary:
Wrong answer.Jan Griffiths:
I don't have fun anymore. Oh, my Lord.Jan Griffiths:
Such a hypocrite because that's exactly that's what I like to do too. But come on. What do you like to do?Mary:
So my husband and I actually still we both him more so you know still very involved in boxing. So he's really involved in the Detroit boxing scene. He actually does some media work here and there. But we actually still travel around the world for boxing events. So we try to go to to most of the major fights. And we're probably go to at least one or two. Every every couple months we're at we're at least at one event. That's fun. And we'd like to travel to do it right to you know, New York, London to wherever the next fight is.Jan Griffiths:
What's the last live performance you ever saw? Not boxing, I mean band or musician or play or something? The last one you saw what was it?Mary:
In August. I was in. It was in Las Vegas. I brought my daughter on a business trip with me to California. We had a I had a meeting out on the West Coast and she had never been to Vegas. She's only 14. So we flew in for a night and I took her to see Beatles, The Beatles show the Cirque show and she loved it. So that was pretty much it.Jan Griffiths:
Who was the band you were into when you were a teenager?Mary:
Oh dear, really? I was in. In fact, if you look in my office, I have a signed poison record sitting on top of my shelf. Yeah, poison, Def Leppard. You name as the big 80s hair bands. That's my jam.Jan Griffiths:
I love it. Did you have big ADC?Mary:
Oh, of course I did. My bangs went up to here I mean, I had the house bangs in school and it was all bang and the rest of it was straight. I was so cool.Jan Griffiths:
You have a root pin? No Oh That's too funny. I tried to picture you with big orange is a picture in your house somewhere like that? I'm sure. I won't ask you to put it up videoJan Griffiths:
You know my interviews have gone from if you if you listen to my very first podcast interview, it's all business right? And now it's evolved into this mix of bit little bit of auto sort of business a lot of leadership of course and then personal because I truly believe that great leaders show their human side, right? Was There are a point in time where you made the switch from saying, Okay, I gotta fit this mold and be this this leader and act a certain way to, you know what this is who I am just go with it was, was there a transition? Or tell me about that?Mary:
No, but I think I've pretty much always been who I am. Take it or leave it. I don't think there was ever a transition. Maybe when I was a little younger, I thought I had to act a certain way sometimes. But obviously, you hit it. I mean, being who you are. And being authentic is not just the best way to lead, it's the best way for anything in the same thing. I use that with everything I do when I go into negotiations with customers, or suppliers or whatever that looks like it's who I am, I'm not gonna put on airs or be somebody that I'm not just to impress somebody. That's just not worth my time. Nor it's too hard, right? Like, why would why would I do that? I don't I don't have that skill set to do that, and then still do what I need to do. So it's just easier being who you are, and putting yourself out there.Jan Griffiths:
Yeah, that is so true. Closing comments, Mary, for our listeners.Mary:
Oh, gosh. Well, we've ran through the gambit here of topics. So I've enjoyed the conversation. I think it's been fantastic. I mean, I think, you know, one of the things that we talked about, really just about the tumultuous industry, and where everything's out right now, one of the things that I continue to tell my team, and we're really taking advantage of that is just never waste a good crisis, because there's always opportunity in the middle of crisis. So while everybody else is panicking, and scrambling and going, Ah, what do we do, right? Just you squint real hard, and you can see those opportunities that are out there, and continue to look for those and build upon those.Jan Griffiths:
There it is. Mary, thank you so much for joining us today.Mary:
Thanks, Jan. I really appreciate it. It's been fun.Jan Griffiths:
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