RICHARD E. DAUCH, AMERICAN AXLE
When taking a long and appreciative look at the impact that American Axle and Manufacturing has had on Hamtramck, it’s important to keep some history points in mind.
AAM, a manufacturer of automotive driveline and chassis systems, was formed in 1994 from a number of General Motors plants—at a time when the relationship between the world’s largest automobile company and the city of Hamtramck and nearby Poletown was strained, at best. According to Richard E. Dauch, who led the group of private investors who purchased the Drive and Forge Business Unit from GM's Saginaw Division, “It’s vital for AAM to have a presence and postive influce in communities where we have our operations.”
As such, Dauch made certain that the Detroit/Hamtramck site, which accounts for more than half of AAM’s business, expanded the two hundred acre campus, making it safer, cleaner, introducing the latest in equipment and technology (which went hand in hand with expanding their product line). Compare to GM days, AAM is better organized, offering brighter lighting and more efficient machines.
In 1999, AAM went public, and is now traded AXL on the NYSE.
Dauch’s commitment to Hamtramck and surround communities is personal as well as professional: “I’d seen Dodge Main close,” he recalls, “and recognized the devestating impact that the closure had on the community. Other bidders on the five facdtory complex would have no doubt sold up and moved. Detroit would have been affected by this, of course, but Hamtramck would have been catastrophic. These kinds of blows affect residents, local businesses and the general well-being of the community.”
Proof of Dauch’s commitment to Hamtramck and the Polish population of greater Detroit is evident is nearly every aspect of AAM’s community interaction. Beside the ergonomic and technical improvements which make AAM an enviable place to work, the company sponsors nearly all local events and institutions, including the Hamtramck Labor Day parade, St. Florian’s Strawberry Festival, the PIAST Institute. At the invitation of Hamtramck’s former and current mayors, Carrie Gray (AAM’s Director of Government and Corporate Affairs, serves on the board of the Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority). At once point, some engineering associates from AAM volunteered to teach at Holbrook Elementary school while the company helped clear local property so that the students could plant a garden—insuring that a new generation understands how a corporation can complement, not detract from the city in which it sets up shop.
The human impact has been as profound, and AAM continues to offer opportunity to Polish immigrants and Polish Americans to prove that they have what it takes to advance into the highest plateaus of AAM management. David Tworek, for example, comes from solid Polish background, with both grandparents having been Dodge Main employees and his father, a pattern maker for Chrysler. Dave started out on the assembly line in 1995 while attending school and now is a Senior Communications specialist at AAM’s World Headquarters. Polish immigrant Monika Rajman is further proof that when a ‘seed’ is well tended, it will sprout and grow. When Monika was a senior at Hamtramck High, a teacher submitted her resume to AAM, and so impressed with her was Human Resources that they hired her for the Marketing Department.
These are the sorts of good will gestures which are equally, good business decisions, benefiting both the corporation, which recruits loyal employees, and the community, which enjoys financial and social resurgence.
Richard E. Dauch may not be the first pioneer of such a win/win philosophy, but as far as Hamtramck is considered, he’s among the best.