Tyree Minner is a plant manager at Chrysler Group LLC
When production revs up at 6:00 AM Minner has already walked the floor; last on his agenda is a review with the night-shift manager at 6:00 PM
'My philosophy has always been that you make opportunities for others who come after you," says Tyree Minner. Today Minner is manager of the Sterling Heights, MI assembly plant of Chrysler Group LLC. His career spans almost forty years in the automotive industry, starting with a college co-op on the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Flint, MI.
Growing up in car country
"I was born and raised in Flint, where there were basically just three kinds of paying jobs," he remembers. "You could be a schoolteacher, you could work at the hospital or you could work for GM."
Minner chose GM and got a summer job there when he was in high school. He left with a scholarship to Albion College (Albion, MI) where he earned a BS in economics with a minor in finance. He was the first member of his family to go to college.
Academics over athletics
"Albion gave me a good, solid background, and I could work and go to school at the same time," Minner explains. "There was a lot of opportunity to ask questions and I had lots of one-on-one time with my professors."
Minner was a star athlete in high school but turned down athletic scholarship offers from the University of Michigan, Dartmouth, Brown and others. "I wanted to be a student who was also an athlete," he says, "not an athlete who was sometimes a student."
At Albion, academics came first: "If you chose not to go to practice because you wanted to study, that wasn't a problem." Nevertheless, Minner was captain of the football team and was inducted into the Albion College Football Hall of Fame.
Lining up credentials
After Albion, Minner earned an MBA from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI). "Back then, with the oil crisis and all, a lot of people with degrees were being laid off," he remembers. "I noticed that you needed more documentation to sustain your job, so I decided to get the MBA in order to present better-rounded experience." He also completed an MS in engineering management from the University of Dallas (Dallas, TX).
Fine degrees to have. "But the degree only gets you into the interview," cautions Minner. "You need to market yourself and be able to prove you're capable of doing the job."
Working for GM
Minner spent more than thirty years with GM. He transferred to Fisher Body where he held supervisory positions in engineering, purchasing and material management, and went on to management jobs in manufacturing engineering and quality there and at the assembly plant in Doraville, GA before being promoted to assistant plant manager at the Wilmington, DE assembly plant.
In 1991 he became general superintendent at GM's assembly plant in Arlington, TX.
"I've always enjoyed being a plant manager," Minner says, "but I think of myself as more of a people manager. Sure, I know how to put a part on a car, but the plant manager's job is to motivate other people to do it right. I think some of them are surprised that I used to work on the line."
His minority status has never really been an issue for him. "I've had my football physique since my junior year in high school," he says with a laugh. "I was a manufacturing executive at twenty-eight but a lot of people really didn't know how young I was. I always presented myself as being strictly business and my supervisors took notice of that and gave me more assignments."
Minner's last assignment at GM was his 2002 appointment as manager of the Oklahoma City assembly plant. "I enjoyed GM a lot," he says.
On to Chrysler Group
In 2006 he began his Chrysler Group career as manager of the St. Louis South assembly plant; in 2009 he became manager of the Twinsburg Stamping Plant (Twinsburg, OH). Last year he began his current Sterling Heights assembly plant assignment, where he directs production of the all-new Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger vehicles.
A typical day for Minner runs from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM. When production revs up at 6:00 Minner has already walked the floor, talking with managers and workers and conducting a safety and housekeeping review.
The rest of the day is a mix of administrative interactions: a quality team review, Kaizen "continuous improvement" projects and engineering-related items, meetings with union leadership, executive conference calls. The last thing on Minner's agenda is a review with the night shift operations manager.
Ten people report directly to Minner: HR, finance, engineering, quality, manufacturing and more, some of them diverse.
"Along the way I've gotten to meet a lot of diverse people," says Minner. "My staff reflects the culture here. I always say, 'If you see diversity in my staff, you'll see it out on the floor.'
"I've been able to train a lot of young managers and some of them have been promoted beyond me. That's great because part of my job is to train my managers so they have more opportunities to do more things.
"I expect people to do what they're being paid to do and to be held accountable for doing it," Minner continues. "I don't want a lot of 'Yes' people working for me; I surround myself with people who are smarter than me."
This past February, Minner received the 2011 Black Engineer of the Year President's Award at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference in Washington, DC. "This is a great acknowledgement," he said in accepting the award, "of my passion to inspire young people to pursue and excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math."
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