Auburn Hills, Michigan – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has written a eulogy for General Holifield, the former vice president of the United Auto Workers who died earlier this month after suffering from pancreatic cancer. Holifield ran the union’s Chrysler division during contract negotiations in 2007 and 2011.
I had the honor and privilege of working for five years with General Holiefield on the same dream: the rebirth of Chrysler.
We met at a time that certainly wasn’t one of the best for the auto industry.
The crisis had struck hard, many people’s jobs had been taken away and, at Chrysler, we were going into Chapter 11 to come out and be given a second chance.
We had to face distrust and skepticism all around us – but not from General.
He knew, as I did, that the agreements we would come to and the decisions we would make were a matter of life and death for the company and its workers.
But General was a man of hope. He didn’t shy away from the challenge. He stepped up to the plate ready to do his part to change things.
He was a tough negotiator and sometimes we butted heads, but our discussions led to great mutual respect and trust and we were able to agree on a shared future.
In the end, it is often in the darkest and most difficult moments that we get to see someone’s real character.
General was a man with courage.
Even when they were not very popular, he was always ready to make tough decisions –– especially when they were in the best interests of workers, as the last few years demonstrated.
I knew him as honest and straight-talking. His assessment of what was happening to the U.S. auto industry, Chrysler included, was – and I quote: “They went to sleep at the wheel; they forgot about the competition and while they were lured asleep someone else began to eat their lunch. When they began to wake up and realize, it was a bit too late.”
He always put the interests of others before his own.
He knew that lasting results are built with passion and determination, and by facing challenges rather than taking shortcuts.
I have always believed that true leaders need more than just professional skill to lead their organization. We know them by their human qualities, their sense of duty, responsibility and respect for others.
I immediately recognized those qualities in General.
His leadership was evident in the way he dealt with other people, holding firmly to his values and also giving of himself.
He was warm and genuine. Not only did he ask how you were, he was also interested in the answer.
He wanted to make a profound and positive difference in this world and he certainly has.
He helped turn the impossible into the possible.
When talking about his courageous decisions, he used to give this analogy: “If you were taking an airplane ride to wherever and if they were to experience a loss of oxygen, you would be told to put the oxygen on your face first before you help someone else. So that’s what we had to do with Chrysler; we had to put the oxygen on Chrysler’s face and make sure that they were able to breathe; that we can see a tomorrow.”
And thanks in no small part to his contribution, Chrysler was able to start breathing on its own again.
He left behind a legacy of hope and set an example for our future.
He was a true partner and a key force behind the transformation of our company.
He played a huge role in bringing us to the point we are now, providing a secure future for so many jobs that were at risk back in 2006 and for the nearly 15,000 new UAW jobs that have been added in the last six years.
Leaders don’t just happen.
If history chose General to guide the UAW Chrysler Department through one of the most difficult periods in the auto industry’s history, not to mention one of the most life-threatening for Chrysler, it’s probably because he was the only one capable of doing it.
I strongly believe he changed Chrysler’s history and probably also the UAW’s history more than once: first with his efforts in Washington to make sure we were given that second chance, then leading our plant transformation, the introduction of a new culture and the World Class Manufacturing principles, a philosophy of working based on the values of self-respect, respect for others and respect for the environment.
When I was told of his of his death last week, I reflected on all of the things we have shared over the past few years: when we first met in Washington at the beginning of this adventure with Ron Gettlefinger and the Task Force, the long meetings, the discussions on how to improve work conditions at plants, our strong belief that plants should be a place where people are proud to go and work, the joy of those who were able to return to work, the gratitude on their faces.
I remember a big hug from General on May 24th, 2011, when we held a meeting of all employees to announce that we had repaid the U.S. Treasury loans, six years in advance, and we were now free to create our own destiny.
When you live such meaningful experiences together, they tie you together forever.
I treasured the opportunity to get to know him on a personal level, to appreciate the man even before the UAW vice president.
You may think the relationship between management and unions is nothing but tension, but I came to value General as a true friend.
I wish I could hug him again and joke with him as I used to before being swallowed up in his embrace.
I know I join the rest of you in saying, simply: I will miss him.
To General’s family, and to everyone gathered here today, I hope it will be of comfort to you to know that his memory will be cherished by all of us who had the privilege to know him.
I want to convey my personal affection and the sympathy of the entire Chrysler organization, for which General made so many contributions.
Source: FCA US LLC