CANTON — This past year has arguably been Nissan Canton plant manager Dave Boyer’s most eventful.
Since operations officially cranked up May 27, 2003, he’s overseen the hiring of 4,000 employees — most had never worked on an automotive assembly line — and produced five successful vehicle launches.
“If it weren’t for the staff that supports me, we never could’ve done this,” said Boyer. “No one person could have handled it alone.” Boyer, who drives a Nissan SUV, an Infiniti QX56 and enjoys tinkering with a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT350 in his spare time, chatted with the Mississippi Business Journal in between the many daily meetings he leads.
Mississippi Business Journal: What were the keys to the successes of this first year of production in Canton?
Dave Boyer: Teamwork and cooperation. We have a tremendously wonderful and talented group of people here, and when you talk about all the things we’ve accomplished, we couldn’t have done any of it without them. Galen (Medlin) and his group did an outstanding job of hiring us some tremendous people. We’re certainly proud of them. Mississippi ought to be proud of them. Just a little bit more than a year ago, probably 99.99% of them had never built an automobile. But they’ve come together. They’ve stepped up, studied, learned, and worked together and helped us accomplish our goals.
MBJ: When Nissan initially announced that it would build an assembly plant in Central Mississippi, some residents weren’t convinced that the automotive plant would make a difference in their lives. How has Nissan responded?
DB: Galen and I were just talking about that. When we first came here, a lot of people from different parts of Mississippi, particularly the northern and southern parts, said they were happy to see Nissan in Mississippi, but they weren’t too sure what Nissan could do for them. I’m happy to tell you that of the 82 counties in Mississippi, we’ve hired people from 80. (Benton and Tunica counties are the only exceptions.) So we have in fact touched most of the state.
MBJ: Four product launches were on schedule, and one product launch was ahead of schedule. It sounds like an incredibly complex task. How did you do it?
DB: There were multiple systems in place. Each area had a plan, with different milestones that we tracked. It was simply a matter of everyone following the plan, and continually communicating and cooperating because the schedules would sometimes get a little ahead and sometimes a little behind. And people had to keep their finger on what was going on. The coordination of all those things is what made it possible.
MBJ: Just before the Canton plant opened, Michael Flynn, director of the University of Michigan’s Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, said the plant could derail Nissan’s progress, that the pressure was intense for you, a Ford Motor Company veteran who ran Smyrna’s paint assembly section. How did you cope?
DB: Obviously, a lot of things were going on. But really, when you’re doing something that you want to do and like to do, you don’t feel a lot of pressure. Yes, there were lots of deadlines, and lots of things had to happen to meet those deadlines, but I have a good group of people. We broke everything into milestones, and everybody tracked what they were doing. We had regular meetings to track those goals.
Fortunately, with the tremendous focus here, and the number of hours spent here, the only way we could have been successful was to have supportive partners at home. We all have that, thank God, and that’s another way we got through all this.
When I got home at the end of a busy day, my wife would be talking about somebody I had no idea about, and it was our neighbor. But she understood. I was focused on work and she supported that, just like my staff’s wives did for them.
MBJ: I understand you usually arrive at the plant by 6 a.m. Describe a typical day.
DB: I do get here early and stay as long as I need to, usually 5:30 or 6 p.m., but the important thing is that so do many others. What has enabled us to do what we’ve done is that we have a group of people who are willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to get done what needs to be done. Everyone here has stepped up and worked very hard over the last year.
During the day, there are a lot of coordination and planning and status meetings to make sure we’re touching on everything and that things are going well.
I like to spend time on the floor interfacing with everybody who works here — talking to people and hearing what they have to say, what they like and don’t like. We believe in good, open two-way communication. If I’m doing that, they’ll glean from it that everyone else is going to do it, too.
Even though the lines aren’t set up where I can jump in, every once in a while I’ll get involved in issues and problems. I’ll jump in there and put some parts together and take them apart to better understand what people are showing me. I try to help them get it fixed. That’s pretty typical.
MBJ: How is phase II coming along?
DB: We’re just about complete. We’re in a trial status now.
MBJ: What would someone be surprised to learn about you?
DB: Well, I recently attended a seminar where everyone had to get to know everyone, so each of us had to write down a story about himself. The stories were passed around and everyone had to figure out whose was whose. I wrote, ‘I’ve been married to the same woman for 35 years.’ And a couple of people guessed it. With all the hours and everything, I’m fortunate (Sandy’s) put up with me this long, since 1969.
MBJ: Tell us about your family — your children and grandchildren.
DB: Our son, Ryan, who is 27, and his wife, Ricci, have two daughters, Lane, four, and Reece, who will turn two in June. Sandy and I do spoil them. All three of our children are grown. Our daughter, Nicole, 30, is the oldest and is married to John Meacham. My youngest daughter, Ashley, turned 21 on May 16 and is a student at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, where she is an elementary education major. We dote on them all.
MBJ: What do you do for fun?
DB: Besides fooling with an old antique car, I like to think I’m a carpenter, so between my kids’ homes and mine, I do projects here and there. I do a little golfing. And I like to read books when I get a chance, but that’s last on the list. I have three books sitting there waiting to be read and I just can’t get to them. Galen and I are big James Patterson fans, and we swap books as soon as a new one comes out. But I really like what I do at Nissan, and the hours don’t bother me. I’ll get to everything else in time.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.