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YSU Worker diversity pays, says Ford VP



Published: Fri, April 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Youngstown native believes in empowering employees and utilizing their ideas.

THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Shamel Rushwin said being the son of a Lebanese immigrant at an Irish Catholic school on the South Side helped prepare him for a climb up the corporate ladder in the auto industry.

Rushwin, now vice president of North American Business Operations at Ford Motor Co., reflected on the years he and his sisters spent at St. Patrick School during a talk Thursday at Youngstown State University.

"My sisters and I were 8 or 9 before we realized we weren't Irish," said Rushwin, who was on campus as part of its Williamson Symposium program.

Sometimes back then, Rushwin wished he were Irish because the treatment from the other kids could be rough. He credits his mother for keeping him going.

"Whether it's fair or not, you get your head up and you get your pride up," she told him.

Early experience: After graduating from Cardinal Mooney High School, he began working at General Motors' assembly plant in Lordstown in 1965 to put himself through Youngstown State University. In those days, GM didn't care about its workers' minds and only wanted their labor, he said.

"It was not a good experience for a young guy with tremendous hopes and dreams," he said.

He said he made up his mind then that companies had to treat their workers differently.

Diversity: Much of the rest of his talk was devoted to how companies today will fail unless they encourage diversity and benefit from their workers' experience, which he calls a return on knowledge.

He said Ford sees diversity as a competitive advantage. It has placed people of diverse races and cultural experiences, as well as from different departments, in the three main parts of its business -- product creation, manufacturing and customer relations.

If only one sort of person is designing a car, for example, then segments of the market will be missed, he said.

Empowering employees also is important, he said. After he was named the youngest plant manager at Chrysler, he was successful in bringing together union and management at a plant that company Chairman Lee Iacocca considered as the plant with the worst labor relations.

Suggestions: In the 1980s, Iacocca asked Rushwin what Chrysler needed to do to bring about the same results company-wide. Rushwin wrote a letter with these suggestions:

UYou cannot make first-class investments and treat employees and customers as second-class citizens.

UThe best companies first create a climate where the employees and customers feel like full-fledged partners, and then they make investments with the input and implementation savvy of the employees.

UThe greatest reward for an employee or shareholder is to invest their commitment and capital in an enlightened, humanistic company...with supervisors trained to respect the workers as human beings, whose creativity and commitment cannot be bought, but must be earned by daily behavior.

Rushwin has worked for GM, Volkswagen, Chrysler and Ford, where he was named to his current position in 2000.

shilling@vindy.com




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