Mack trucks are about as American as baseball, apple pie and Harley Davidsons ... even if the truck manufacturer was bought out by Volvo of Sweden. Still, every Mack that runs on American roads is built right here in the U.S.A. -- and, right along with the rest of the trucking industry, Mack was hit hard by the recession.
But President and CEO Denny Slagle is intent on helping the company return to its former glory, and that's one of the main reasons that he agreed to go on an 'Undercover Boss' journey into the belly of his company -- he wanted to see if the spirit was still there among the employees, and if not, he intended to find out how he could bring it back.
"They approached us about doing it on April 1, April Fool's Day, and I thought it was a joke," says Slagle. "But the more we talked about it, everyone thought it would be a good idea."
It did turn out to be a good idea, from Slagle's perspective. He was able to address the rumor that Mack Trucks Inc. -- which has been building trucks in America for more than 100 years and has served the U.S. military since WWI -- would be moving to Mexico, as so many other truck manufacturers have done. "We are determined to stay in the U.S.A.," he asserts. "We've made a big investment in our plants here, and we believe that we'll make it pay off by working harder and smarter -- which is the American way."
Not enough elbow grease
Working harder and smarter didn't seem to be an option for Slagle, however, once he went undercover with a fake mustache, heavy glasses and dyed hair and beard. On his first assignment, at the Engine Assembly Plant in Hagersown, Md., he worked with Tracy, an engineer who is responsible for putting the front covers on the engines in two minutes and 34 seconds--she turns out 140 engines per day -- unless she was training someone like Slagle. Slagle found it impossible to scan each engine, grease it, add saline, put the cover on and clean the excess saline in that time. As a matter of fact, he screwed up so badly he stopped the entire assembly line.
Later, after Slagle had revealed his true indentity, he tried to make it up to the hard-working Tracy be giving her an innovation award for devising a way to project the engines as they're built, and, knowing how important her family is to her a he gave her and 15 family members,a family reunion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Too fast for his own good
Next Slagle tried his hand in Baltimore, Md., at the Parts Distribution Center. Working with Mike, a material technician, he had a lead foot on the forklift, driving a little too fast and clipping some of the rows. "I had a lot of nervous energy," he confesses, "and I tried to do things too fast." Despite keeping the pedal to the metal behind the wheel of the forklift, Mike told him it was taking him too long to find and retrieve the parts, and that an employee like Slagle would drive him to drink.
Mike was like many of the Mack employees whose families have been with the company for generations. He had been there since 1977, when his brother was also hired. His father worked there too, starting in 1961. He was the one who told Slagle that company moral was down and that workers were troubled by rumors that Mack would be going across the border to Mexico.
In the end, Slagle not only did his best to let Mike know that Mack has every intention of staying in the US, but he promised to donate a $5,000 donation to local athletics in Mike's name, and arranged for him and his family to spend a weekend in Pittsburgh to see a Pirates game.
The nuts and bolts of the business
In Macungie, Pa., Slagle worked with a technician named Allan who showed him how to build the steel frame for a diesel exhaust fluid tank. Although Allen had to tell Slagle how to hold a tool correctly, Slagle actually had a substantial amount of success in this job, although it was tricky.
During a break with Allan, Slagle found out that Allan's 7 and 4-year-old grand children have Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare genetic disease that is almost always terminal. It touched Slagle and his wife so deeply that she actually made a personal donation to Allan, in the end, and Allan said he would use it to help his grandchildren.
Slagle thought Allan was so joyful and positive that in addition, a $5,000 donation will be made in Allan's name to help fight the disease, and the whole extended family, including the two ailing granddaughters would be sent to Disney world.
Exhausted by bumpers
Finally, at the same plant, Slagle worked with Jeff, another technician, on an assembly line, where he assisted in putting bumpers and exhaust stacks on the trucks. Slagle was fascinated to discover that Jeff had been with Mack since 1998, is restoring 13 Mack trucks, and belongs to a chapter of the Bulldogs, a group of Mack truck owners. During lunch the two went to the employees' garage to check out his trucks, some of which are vintage.
After the big reveal, Jeff received $5,000 toward the restoration of his trucks, with the goal in mind of taking Mack trucks to big shows. A donation of $5,000 would also be made in Jeff's name to help veterans, a cause which is very dear to him.
Slagle was ecstatic to find that many of his employees are just as determined as he is to bring Mack back to the American icon status it was in its glory days, and to bring this country back as well. "I appreciate being an American," he affirms, adding that many of the foreign business people he comes in contact with do not appreciate their own countries. Speaking of both Mack and America, he says, "We have to bring it back. We can't lose it."
Next: Read interviews with previous Undercover Bosses
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