It isn’t hard to see how Walter P. Chrysler built his new company and who he would build it upon. He simply reached out to the best men he had worked and recruited them to form his new all-star team. As he began to plan his new enterprise, Chrysler is said to have remarked, “I wish we had Keller with us and not against us.”
With that knowledge, it should come as no surprise that in filling the important position of Vice President of manufacturing for his new company, Chrysler recruited Kaufman Thuma (K.T.) Keller. Some say, in Keller he hired a person with work experiences most like his own.
Raised on a farm in Pennsylvania, K.T. attended the Wade Business College before joining the Westinghouse Machine Company as a clerk. Realizing “clerking” wasn’t for him, he took a pay cut to join a two-year apprenticeship program in the company’s machine shop. This wouldn’t be the only time in his career K.T. would sacrifice short-term gains to reach a greater goal.
While at Westinghouse (1906-1910) he rose to the position of assistant superintendent in the department that made engines for the Chalmers-Detroit Motor Company…and he also realized that if manufacturing was his goal, Detroit would be the place to be.
Moving to the Motor City in 1910, Keller began a life-long career in the automobile industry,
Starting as a laborer before becoming a foreman, he worked for several auto companies before joining the Northway Division of General Motors in 1911 as a general superintendant. By 1917, he joined Buick Motor Company as a master mechanic, recruited by Buick’s president at that time…a gentleman by the name of Walter P. Chrysler. In time, Keller would become head of manufacturing for the Chevrolet Motor Company from 1921 to 1924 before being named head of GM’s Canadian operations.
Though Walter P. Chrysler would leave GM to follow a different career path, he didn’t forget about Keller. So, in 1926, when Chrysler was putting together his new team, Keller would be on it as Vice President of manufacturing operations. After successfully assimilating the recently-purchased Dodge Motor Company into the Chrysler Corporation, Keller was named president of the Dodge Division, a position he held until 1935, when he would succeed Chrysler as President of the Chrysler Corporation. K.T. held that position until 1950, when he was appointed Chairman of the Board, a title he held until his retirement in 1956.
A self-made man, Keller was a “doer”. He rarely took vacations (only three were taken in an eleven year span) and spent his working hours touring the plants and engineering laboratories.
When he wasn’t working Keller was typically tinkering in the machine shop in his basement. For Keller, work was his life…he continued to say “I am a machinist by trade”.