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Exec: Veterans make good employees

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Pete Selleck poses at Challenge Bibendum

GREENVILLE, S.C.—If Michelin needed any convincing that military veterans make good employees, it only needs to look at its North American president.

Pete Selleck—president and chairman of Michelin North America Inc.—joined the firm 32 years ago after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy and spending five years of active service in the U.S. Military.

“It's part of who I am. I'm very proud of my service and very grateful that I had the opportunity to do that,” Selleck said.

“We have a lot of veterans in this company. We have a large number of senior leaders who have that experience. We find that military experience develops a lot of core skills, particularly leadership, and we certainly appreciate those skills and the veterans we have in our company.”

Selleck said a number of Michelin's employees serve in the National Guard or the Army Reserve, as he did for more than 20 years after his service. When they get activated, Michelin compensates the difference on their salaries if their active duty pay is less than what they make with the firm. It also allows families to remain on their health and benefit programs.

“We don't want their families to suffer. Conversely, we want to recognize that they're doing something very, very important,” Selleck said.

Michelin continues to actively recruit those with military backgrounds to work for the firm. It recently initiated its Michelin Global Leadership program, which reaches out to junior military officers and graduate students in universities to try to assist in the transition into a company such as Michelin either out of a graduate program or out of the military.

It is one way Michelin tries to attract new talent. Selleck said Michelin spends a lot of effort in developing its employees. Ideally, they spend their entire career with the firm as he has.

“Our people generally work with us for their whole careers. I go into a lot of meetings where there are many, many people senior to me. It's important that if you're going to have people for long careers, you're constantly able to increase their skills,” Selleck said.

“Not only do you have to develop so they reach their potential, but also technology keeps changing, so you have to keep bringing people up to date.”

Replenishing the ranks

Selleck said Michelin is facing an interesting challenge. It established most of its base in the 1970s and early 1980s. With those employees reaching retirement age, the firm is experiencing a generational transition.

Selleck said that while that challenge may be difficult, it is exciting to see the quality of people the firm is attracting. There is a long lead time between hiring and getting that employee fully trained.

Michelin's TechScholar program provides about 60 young people who are going through two-year technical programs with full scholarships and paid internships while they're in school. Selleck said about 95 percent come work for the firm.

“These young people will graduate from high school and get the scholarship in the first semester,” Selleck said. “Basically their education is paid for, and then they'll also get a paid internship. Most people going to technical school are living at home, so they've had very little expenses, and they've actually been making money.”

Selleck said Michelin helps send its employees back to graduate school through other programs—something the president took advantage of during his career with the tire maker. He said about 45 percent of salaried employees in the manufacturing plants start as production or reliability technicians.

“A four-year college degree coming out of high school is not necessarily the only path to be successful. We're very impressed with the quality of young people we're finding today,” Selleck said.

“One of the challenges is that most of us coming out of school don't really know what we want to do. And if you don't know what you want to do, that makes your educational process very inefficient and amazingly costly. College today is very expensive, and if you don't know why you're in college, that's a real challenge. We realize we have to contact with young people as early as we possibly can.”

They initiate that contact as early as seventh grade, through a program called Dream Connectors. Now run by the Greenville County school system, Michelin and other manufacturers in the area will visit the school and explain manufacturing jobs to kids. Then the firm takes the kids to visit the plant and get a taste of modern manufacturing.

“It's a lot different than what they expect,” Selleck said. “This area used to be a textile manufacturing area where the plants were dark, dirty, and there was stuff in the air.”

Once the tour is done, Michelin sends four employees who are under the age of 25—a production worker, a reliability technician, a business unit leader/supervisor and an engineer. They explain how they got from seventh grade to where they are today.