WATER VALLEY – The rumor mill has been working overtime after the recent layoffs and the arrival of a new plant manager at BorgWarner.
Hans Werner has heard most of them since becoming manager of the local plant last month. According to Werner, the rumors are varied and include that he is here to close the plant or to sell it.
“I am not here in America for a year just to volunteer to close a plant down. That’s not something I want to see in my records,” Werner said.
“I am here to fix this place and lead it through the crisis. That’s what it is all about,” he added. “I am here to work with a very strong team to get this team stronger based on the strengths they have already.”
The crisis to which he refers is the worldwide economic slump that has further impacted an already declining North American auto industry.
“Overall, we are depending on Detroit. We have all the interest in the world that this big wheel in Detroit keeps on spinning,” Werner said. “We have seen sales dropping here over the last six years down from $200,000,000 something down to where we are right now in the range of $120 (million).”
Werner added that he believes the Water Valley plant will get out of this crisis stronger than ever before.
“I can tell you it might be painful. It might even be ugly,” he said. The whole community sees us laying off people…a lot of them. Nobody likes that. But, by doing this we are protecting the rest from being laid off maybe in a year from now because we aren’t cost competitive anymore. That’s the things we need to do to keep this plant alive.”
Werner said that he understands how the layoffs affect the community. During the most recent reduction, 39 of 388 employees were cut. “Behind each of those persons in most of those cases is a whole family. Each dismissal might affect not just one person but three, four, even five.”
“But, if we don’t do it,” he emphasized, “we really jeopardize this place for the future.”
Werner has a strong belief in his 10-member management team: Mark Moore, Product Line Manager; Ford/GM; Andy Horner, Product Engineer Manager; Rodney Francis, Human Resources/ Environmental Health and Safety Manager; Kris Tewkesbury Global Supply Manager; Mark White, Information Technology Manager; Ken French, Production Control and Logistics Manager; Brad Paine, Manufacturing Engineer Manager; Dale Burwell, Controller; Steve Calahan , Quality Manager; and Jason Stallings, Product Line Manager, Chrysler.
“It’s all about people,” Werner said. “You can be the best guy in the world, but if you haven’t got a team you are lost. We will be working on the strengths of this team to make this place ready for the future.”
He also said that he believes in the American spirit. “If there is one people in the world who I believe can come out of a problem in a very unique way and very effectively it’s the American people.”
During a recent meeting, Werner told plant employees that he liked the American expression, “don’t give up.” He also commented on the campaign slogan, “yes, we can,” that was used during the election. “Yes, we can is a very, very American thing and I like that statement very much.”
“You need to go for the impossible to make the possible happen. This is what we are going to do in here.”
Johannes (Hans) W. Werner, 48, came to Water Valley in October after serving as plant manager and managing director of BorgWarner’s operation in Markdorf, Germany.
Before joining BorgWarner, Werner worked for Lear Corporation as Operations Manager/Deputy Plant Manager in Bremen, Germany and Plant Manager in Platting, Germany. He has also held positions in launch management at Daimler-Benz and project management at Siemens.
He holds a Graduate Engineer degree in production engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Ulm, Germany.
Werner and his wife, Julia, have two children, Sarah, 21, and Erik, 12. The family will remain in Germany during his stay in America.
Werner describes himself as a southern guy. “This is south of America and I come from south of Germany,” he said.