American Axle founder leaves a mixed legacy


By Charles Sercombe     

          One thing is for sure, mention the name of Richard Dauch, the co-founder of American Axle & Manufacturing, and you’ll get some heated opinions.

          It was announced last Friday that Dauch, 71, died of an undisclosed ailment.

          In 1993 Dauch was hailed as a hero for purchasing the failing Chevy Gear & Axle plant, which GM had planned to close down.

          Dauch promised his union workers that he would honor their contracts, and persuaded many to stick with him and not transfer to another GM plant. Union workers largely supported Dauch.

          Dauch and his investors went on to turn the plant around and make it profitable. He also won the praise of local officials for tearing down dozens of blighted houses and closed businesses surrounding the plant complex.

          Dauch’s aim was to make the complex more like a campus. The company built its world headquarters at the site of Holbrook and the I-75 service Drive, another sign that he was committed to Detroit.

          Hamtramck benefitted greatly from the plant since part of it was located in the city. That produced millions of dollars over the years in property taxes.

          But things took a sharp turn in 2008 when UAW workers went on strike. After six months of a bitter standoff, the workers agreed to a 50 percent pay cut. Dauch was rewarded with a several million dollar bonus.

          Shortly after settling, the company unexpectedly closed down the plant and transferred work to its Mexico plant.

          There was a hint of things to come before the strike. In a meeting with the Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority, Dauch spoke and complained about the “entitlement mentality” of workers.

          Since the strike, local city officials have a decidedly different opinion of Dauch.

          Mayor Karen Majewski said that although she had been critical of Dauch, she would prefer to think of the good work he did at the beginning.

          “He’s a dynamic person, and took the company and made something great out of it,” she said. “It’s unfortunate what happened to the company and the workers.”

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