Manufacturing in the United States is thriving. Outputs are high, the workforce is in demand, and students who are considering a career in manufacturing have high hopes. In this episode of The ROI Podcast, Gregg Sherrill, executive chairman of Tenneco, talks about the evolution of manufacturing and the role it has played in the United States.
(The ROI Podcast Music)
Shane: Welcome back! Phil, you think the sound effects at the beginning of the show gave away clues about what we’ll be discussing today?
Phil: You know, Shane, here in Indiana we are in the manufacturing heartland of the United States. We are the most manufacturing-intensive state in the country.
Shane: Who better to discuss the state of manufacturing than the special guest we have on today’s show – we’re talking with Gregg Sherrill, executive chairman of Tenneco, a fortune 500 company manufacturing company. Phil – you know Gregg very well – give us some background on this Kelley Evening MBA Alum.
Phil: Today, we’re coming full circle for Gregg, who’s seen several shifts in manufacturing – most notably in the technological advances… So I asked Gregg about his impression of what manufacturing was when he first entered the industry, versus where it is today…
Gregg: When I look back now, in particular, because I can visualize the plant floor at Ford Motor Company 40 years ago, it bears less resemblance to the plant floor today. 2:39 The plant floor today looks more like an operating room, and that has been this enormous technology influx and to how we manufacture, not only how we engineer things as well, it all comes together on the manufacturing floor. It's been exciting and challenging for me, I’ve always said about [the] automotive [industry that] when it gets in your blood, it’s in your blood. It went through a lot of years getting beat up around this country, but it was never beaten up around the world!
Shane: I want to pause there for just a second, Phil, because I was just reading an article and the manufacturing industry led job gains for the month of March here in 2018 – and those numbers seem to continue trending upward, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Phil: And just a few years ago during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 – many people were writing off manufacturing – thinking it had its day in the sun… But here in Indiana, manufacturing is thriving, as it is all around the country and the world. Gregg weighs in here.
Gregg: I look at a lot of things with a historical perspective – unfortunately, I’m old enough to be a big part of 40 years of history now, so it’s not just historical, it’s one that I’ve lived through! To a great extent, when I really step back and can look at it, manufacturing never went away – we were talking about it earlier, the actual manufacturing output as a percentage of GDP has been constant for 50 years. It is true that the output comes with a much different and reduced total employment level because of productivity and the technology, but the overall output has always been there.
Phil: The bottom line: Times are changing. Technology is changing. This shifts the landscape of manufacturing, but it reemphasizes the importance of high-skilled labor. We’re seeing more and more requirements of manufacturing employees – and that’s where the United States has a great advantage globally. We produce high-skilled talent and labor. And our innovation is what drives our success, according to Gregg.
Gregg: I still think innovation is the vast majority of that, [and] the business climate now is helping.
Gregg: We are always going to need things, you can’t digitize everything, such as the chair you’re sitting in, the table you’re leaning on, and the car you’re driving – we will need manufacturing. It is in the thrusts of tremendous technological change that is exciting, and the careers and challenges are tremendous. We are going to need to get the best and the brightest, and that’s the message we need to get out there, that every bit as rewarding as any of those other industries we mentioned a moment ago, and going forward, it is very much on the forefront of change going on around the world, and both driving and utilizing every technology that you can and can’t imagine out there.