For more than four decades, Richard E. “Dick” Dauch was a visionary leader in the automotive industry who achieved heights of success with major automakers, before co-founding American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM). Under his leadership, AAM grew into a multi-billion-dollar global Tier 1 supplier. Paving the way for future auto leaders, he was also instrumental in creating a university curriculum for manufacturing and management.
Dauch was born on July 23, 1942 in Norwalk, Ohio. He was raised on a dairy farm as the youngest of seven siblings. Performance and accountability were instilled in Dauch from an early age. He and his siblings helped operate the farm; even as children, they were accustomed to a strict routine and learned to execute tasks correctly.
By nine, Dauch had developed a strong interest in automobiles. He would lie awake at night as the cars and trucks drove by, listening to engines purring and tires squealing. Eventually he could tell the model of the car by its sounds.
Multi-talented, Dauch earned a football scholarship to Purdue University and graduated in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Management. Turning down an invitation to the Green Bay Packers training camp, he moved to Michigan and accepted a job at the Chevrolet Flint assembly plant. In 1973, he was appointed plant manager at the Chevrolet Spring & Bumper plant in Livonia. In that era, Dauch (at 30 years old) was the youngest plant manager in GM’s history.
In 1976, Dauch joined Volkswagen for their re-entry into the American market as vice president and general manufacturing manager. He established the company’s first U.S. assembly plant, which opened six months ahead of schedule. The successful launch landed him a promotion to group vice president and a seat on the board of directors.
All the while, Chrysler was in need of a major revamp. Lee Iacocca (former Chrysler chairman) consulted with Roger Penske on how to save the corporation. Penske knew the perfect person. He advised Iacocca to recruit Dauch. Hired at Chrysler in 1980, Dauch made a remarkable impact. He implemented a just-in-time materials management system, a three-shift assembly system and sequential production. He led construction of three new assembly plants, including the Chrysler Technical Center, and he successfully oversaw the production of the first minivan. In 1991, Dauch retired from Chrysler as executive vice president of worldwide manufacturing and wrote his first book, “Pursuit of Manufacturing,” published in 1993. His second book, “American Drive,” was published in 2012.
When GM announced its sale of 18 manufacturing plants in 1992, Dauch seized the opportunity. He formed a small investment group and bought five of the plants, including GM’s Final Drive and Forge Business unit. In 1994, American Axle & Manufacturing became an independent company with Dauch as president and CEO. In 1997, he was elected chairman of the board, where he remained until his death in 2013. Under his leadership, AAM achieved ground-breaking industry advancements including new manufacturing practices and products.
Dick Dauch’s ideas pushed the envelope. He delivered many cutting-edge innovations and was known for his management techniques and high expectations. And though he understood mistakes, he never tolerated mediocrity. Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca said, “He put his heart and soul into the auto industry, and the success of AAM is proof of this dedication.” The proof is indeed in the pudding. As of 2019, the company had more than 21,000 associates operating at nearly 80 facilities in 17 countries.