By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Kent Tobin, a 25-year veteran of the auto industry, is taking over as plant manager of the local BorgWarner facility.
Tobin was introduced Friday by outgoing Plant Manager Hans Werner who is returning to Germany to deal with problems at two BorgWarner plants in that country.
“He’s a proven expert with a ton of expertise in manufacturing excellence,” Werner said of Tobin. “He brings system knowledge to this plant and I am really looking forward to seeing those results over the course of the next months and years.”
Werner emphasized that the key word is years. “This plant has seen seven plant managers in the course of the last eight to ten years. I am pretty sure I will have been the last who has been around for a year or two. Kent comes here for consistency and stability for a long time.”
“Kent has made plans to relocate here with his family,” Werner added. “He will give this plant the necessary leadership and stability we need here.”
Tobin said that although he had only been here for three days, he had found the workforce to be friendly, disciplined, and diligent. “They have the right attitude and spirit that you want to see.”
He expressed concern that some thought he was coming to Water Valley to shut the local plant down because has last assignment was in Muncie, Ind. BorgWarner closed their million square foot facility there when the contract with United Auto Workers Local 287 expired in April.
Tobin said that he wouldn’t want the job of closing plants. “It was the worst experience of my professional career. Absolutely the worst.”
Tobin, who is originally from Bay City, Mich., got his electrical engineering degree and MBA from the University of Michigan. He said that he worked for General Motors for 15 years and at some smaller companies before his five-year stay in Muncie.
“My Dad worked for General Motors for 38 years,” said Tobin. “I come from a General Motors family. I drive General Motors vehicles.”
He and wife, Sharon, have three children. Oldest, Hillary, is 22 and works in Indianapolis. Kurt is 18 and will be a sophomore next year at Miami of Ohio where he is studying business. David, the youngest at 17, graduated Sunday from high school in Muncie and plans to attend Clemson in the fall studying industrial engineering.
“In August when they go off to college, my wife will be coming down here,” Tobin said. “She’ll be looking for something to do. She’s got a lot of energy. She loves kids. She had a job at a day care center in Muncie. She’ll probably be looking for something here to occupy some of her time.”
“I’m looking forward to being part of the team here and part of the community.”
Hart: Town Is Very Pro Industry
By Jack Gurner
Mayor-elect Larry Hart met with local BorgWarner officials last Friday for a briefing on the current status of the Water Valley plant.
Outgoing Plant Manager Hans Werner told Hart, “We wanted to get in touch with the new man in the Town Hall to make sure that there is a consistent and strong relationship between the community and the leadership of the community and the leadership of this plant.”
Werner said, “We all know how important this relationship has been and how good it has been over all these years.”
Hart said that he appreciated the opportunity as he was introduced to Kent Tobin, new plant manager.
Werner explained to Hart what had happened at the plant during the past eight months which has included a series of layoffs that has reduced the entire workforce to 235 as of Monday.
He added that the company finds itself in a relatively strong position because of the decisions that were as opposed to a lot of other automotive companies that are weak.
“BorgWarner is strong because it reacted quickly,” said Werner of the way the company handled the recent turndown in the economy. “For the future I see a ton of opportunity for this plant.”
Hart asked what kind of opportunity the people who were laid off would have to return to the plant as the economy recovered. “A lot of homes are broken because of these layoffs. Being from Water Valley and knowing these people, I hurt with them,” said the mayor-elect.
Rodney Francis, human resources manager, said that those who were laid off retain recall rights for a year. “If we start growing the business back or adding a shift here or whatever the case might be, we go to that recall list and by seniority list and start calling people back.”
Hart told company officials that many of those who were laid off still have deep feelings for the company. “This was their life. I’ve even heard them talk about, ‘I hate to lose my job, but it’s going to help somebody else out there at the plant.'”
Hart said that he believes the company will come back and he appreciates the work they had done to prepare for the post recession recovery. “I think it is going to pay off in the long run for Water Valley.”
The mayor-elect pointed out that the citizens of Water Valley had made sacrifices for the local BorgWarner plant. “We have helped you with your tax exemptions. Big lick to the city. Hurtful lick to the city budget.”
“We’ve helped you with your water rates of late. You are one of the benefactors of a reduced water rate that we did.”
Hart went on to explain that the city budget has to be looked at carefully before financial decisions are made. “We really have to massage those numbers and try to be fair to both industry and the public. And, I am very pro industry.”
“We’re reducing utility rates for utilities which places a burden on those households that are already burdened,” Hart commented on those citizens who had been laid off from the plant.
“I believe you’ll find us to be very pro industry,” he said. “I believe in jobs. I believe we have got to have them.”
Hart invited Tobin to considering making his home in the city. “There are some great real estate values here. You can buy a 40 acre farm here for what you can buy a small lot up at the county club in Oxford.”
“In the future please consider these tax payers out here and these utility rate payers who have made these concessions for the plant. We would love for the upper echelon to live here.”
Hart emphasized that Water Valley is a community. “The community gets behind each other and helps. You’ll like Water Valley if you live here.”