Actually, the headline could be a statement or a question. So far, manufacturing has been leading the recovery–such as it is. But the recovery is weak, and manufacturing activity remains fragile. However, I’m seeing signs of optimism for long term growth as I focus on leadership.

I live near Dayton, Ohio, so I get lots of news from there. Plus, at one stop of my career I sold automation and machinery to most of the automotive plants there. Most of them are gone now. They were GM, then Delphi, then spun into a dozen directions (but mostly winding up in Mexico and China). One plant was owned by Chrysler making air conditioners for cars. Like most of the vertically integrated component plants, it didn’t worry too much about sales or efficiency. Then came the brutal restructuring of the automotive industry when the top manufacturers decided that they would make only core competency products–bodies, assembly, engines and transmissions. The rest could be farmed out.

Management and labor in those plants were unprepared. The best Delphi leadership could do was lead the company into bankruptcy and splinter the company. Meanwhile, this ex-Chrysler plant got new leadership in both management and union, was sold to Behr, and Sunday, the Dayton Daily News reported that the plant has been adding customers and employees. (It’s a newspaper, so you may have to register to see the article)

Then I spotted this article about automotive manufacturing in the US showing a turnaround. And much can be attributed to tossing out the inbred car-culture guys and bringing in fresh thinking.

I sort of juxtapose this with the oil industry right now. Without a doubt, BP needs drastic changes at the top. Current leadership has allowed a lax environment for safety–and who knows what else. Plus the industry faces challenges both from the standpoint of declining reserves of petroleum and the politics of oil, which is unstable to say the least. Shell has shown signs of some broadened leadership thinking, but then it regresses at times. They had best take a lesson from the automotive companies.

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