Future-Focused Leadership with Mary Buchzeiger

Future-Focused Leadership with Mary Buchzeiger

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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.”

Episode Highlights

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.

Top quotes

[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:

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