Canton — On March 31, Galen Medlin ended a nearly six-year run as Nissan North America’s human resources (HR) director for its automotive assembly plant in Madison County.
Even though Medlin’s official first day on the job was January 3, 2001, he was selected to serve on the project team that included site selection responsibilities the summer before. During his first month in Mississippi, he worked from a local hotel room before a small office was established on the square in downtown Canton. His assignment: to hire 4,000 production workers to assemble five Nissan models in a little more than a year.
The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Medlin a week before his retirement, when he said “then every day is Saturday,” and asked him about his retirement plans and the challenges he faced handling employment issues at the Japanese automaker’s newest, most efficient U.S. plant.
Mississippi Business Journal: Why retire now?
Galen Medlin: My personal plan has always been to retire in 2006. I consider the past five years and being a part of the launch of the Nissan-Canton plant the capstone of my career. The automotive business is a very fast-paced work environment, so I’m looking forward to a little slower pace.
MBJ: Any special retirement plans?
GM: My wife (and best friend) and I are building a new home in Middle Tennessee on a few acres. Although we have truly enjoyed our time in Mississippi, the pull of children and grandchildren back to Tennessee is very strong. I’m sure I’ll enjoy working in the yard, reading more (James Patterson books), fishing and being a full-time granddad. We also enjoy traveling a lot.
MBJ: Will you do some HR consulting work?
GM: After working for over 43 years, which includes over 23 years with Nissan, it would be difficult to totally abandon the HR field that I really enjoy. More than likely, I’ll do some HR consulting work on a part-time basis.
MBJ: What was the greatest challenge during your tenure at Nissan-Canton and how did you resolve it?
GM: Really the greatest opportunity that I faced with the Canton HR team was recruiting, hiring and training over 4,000 employees in a little more than two years. This was the largest employment blitz Nissan North America had ever faced. The way this was accomplished was by developing a strategic plan and then working that plan to the smallest detail. I’m pleased to say that we never missed a promised employment date, which in some cases was more than 100 employees in a single week.
After employees were hired, then their training had to be accomplished on an accelerated basis. We had a very aggressive schedule of launching five vehicles in a little more than a year. I’m very proud to say that the Canton technicians are continuing to become a more seasoned team of automotive assemblers. We’re seeing very solid improvements in productivity and quality.
Of course, these accomplishments could not have been achieved without a world-class HR team. Of the 45 members of the Canton HR team, the vast majority is from right here in Central Mississippi.
MBJ: What do you consider your greatest accomplishments at Nissan-Canton?
GM: Reflecting back over the last five years, one of the things that I’m most proud of is being a part of team that brought good paying jobs with great benefits to Mississippi.
I can remember meeting new employees and their spouses and seeing their pride at being selected to be on the Nissan team.
I’m also very proud of bringing to our newly-hired team the Nissan philosophy of “people being our most valuable resource.” We strongly believe in treating each employee with dignity and respect. We have a participative management style here that encourages each employee to offer ideas or suggestions to improve our processes or the way we do business. We believe in tapping into the brainpower of the whole team and not just the management at the top.
I’m also very proud of what we’ve accomplished as a corporate citizen. Nissan has been a strong contributor to the Mississippi education system by providing scholarships, co-op programs and substantial monetary grants to K-12 and universities. I’ve been a part of many donations ceremonies to local charitable organizations. I’ve served as the chairman for the Nissan United Way Campaign each year, and in the 2006 campaign, our team members donated more than $400,000 to their friends and neighbors.
MBJ: How many workers have been trained under your supervision?
GM: All of them. To be honest, every team member that becomes a Nissan employee goes through extensive training initially to familiarize them with the automotive industry, but this is just the beginning of their training. We have a 64,000-square-foot training center on site that is in constant use both day and nights providing both soft skill training as well as technical training for our employees.
The two things I tell potential employees during interviews are that you have to be able to work in a team environment and that as long as you work at Nissan, you will continue to be trained, trained and retrained.
MBJ: Anything else you’d like the Mississippi business community to know?
GM: We’d like to thank everyone in Mississippi not only for welcoming Nissan into their community, but also for welcoming my wife and me. We have always been treated graciously and like friends.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.