Richard E. "Dick" Dauch, the American Axle & Manufacturing co-founder who died last week at 71, was based in Detroit, but he and his company left a lasting mark on automotive manufacturing in Western New York.
Dauch was part of the investment team that formed American Axle & Manufacturing. The investors were praised for reviving some investment-starved General Motors operations, including a factory in Buffalo and a forge in the Town of Tonawanda, that they acquired and renamed 1994. During Dauch's tenure as chief executive officer of the company, American Axle opened a third area plant, in Cheektowaga, an idea advocated by local management and United Auto Workers leaders. In 2000, American Axle had 2,800 employees at the three area plants.
Dauch was known for his aggressive, hands-on leadership style and his bluntness. He authored a book with Hank H. Cox in 2012, called "American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Country," that was written very much in his voice.
He wrote about American Axle’s Buffalo-area operations in a few places. On the closing of the East Delavan gear and axle plant, Dauch said the facility had an "uncompetitive wage and benefit structure." and that it "came down to a question of whether we wanted to make money or lose money."
"It was a tough decision we did not make lightly, but it was a matter of survival," he wrote. "Life presents us with difficult choices."
Dauch recounted meeting with top UAW leaders in Detroit during the 2008 strike and telling them he was considering closing five plants, including all three in the Buffalo area. He then wrote, in italics to emphasize the point:The strongest position management can take in a labor negotiation is the closure of a facility.
Within a few years after the end of the strike, American Axle had closed all of its Buffalo-area operations. The East Delavan complex is being redeveloped, the Tonawanda forge was demolished, and the Cheektowaga facility was sold.
-- Matt Glynn