One is called a saint by his union-represented employees. The other is labeled ``a corporate terrorist'' by union members. Such are the differences in style of the last two Rubber & Plastics News Executive of the Year winners. Both—Richard Selip of Grand River Rubber & Plastics Co. and Maurice Taylor Jr. of Titan International Inc.—have run successful rubber product companies. The resemblance ends there.
Grand River runs on trust between employees and management. When change is needed, that relationship comes into play. Titan operates under a state of war with its union. Any attempt at change results in conflict.
Listen to Selip's keynote address at the recent ACS Rubber Division meeting and you can sense why Grand River's employees trust the company. Selip talked about the importance of Grand River's staff, how one of the primary reasons the company exists is to provide opportunity for its employees. That declaration is part of the firm's mission statement—and it's not just words.
An example: Five years ago, Grand River knew it no longer could compete with a major product line. The company considered, but couldn't bring itself to, asking for a 20-percent wage concession from its unionized work force.
Instead, the firm decided to invent technology to automate the process. The workers, nervous when they heard the words ``automation,'' trusted management because of its good track record. The investment was made, productivity increased and labor costs plummeted. No one lost a job, either.
Contrast that with the situation at Titan. The company has been replacing workers at its strike-bound Des Moines, Iowa, plant since May, and is preparing to take similar action at Natchez, Miss., where Titan bought bankrupt Fidelity Tire Manufacturing Corp.
Even if Taylor wins the labor disputes, his poor relationship with union members guarantees more confrontations in the future whenever the company seeks change. No matter how you cut it, Selip's approach is better.