Mack CEO brings good news message

January 31, 1998


Staff Writer

Mack Trucks Inc. is poised for another year of growth, which could include additional jobs at its Hagerstown powertrain manufacturing plant, company officials said Friday.

The plant, which makes heavy-duty truck engines and transmissions, helped the company achieve an increase in market share for five consecutive years - a trend officials expect to continue.

"It's good news for everybody. It shows there is a payback for effort," said Michel Gigou, 51, president and chief executive officer for the Allentown, Pa., company.


Gigou (pronounced zhi-GOO) visited the Hagerstown plant to hold a "town meeting" with many of its 1,200 employees, to answer questions and concerns, and to express his vision for Mack and the plant.

His message: The company is doing very well, but it must continue to improve and find better ways to serve its customers if it expects to continue a trend of growth and prosperity.

"If you are unable to give (the customer) what he wants, you do not exist," Gigou said.

In the late 1980s some wondered if the Pennsylvania Avenue plant had a future, as production levels dropped to all-time lows, with well below 100 engines rolling off the assembly line. By 1991 employment at the plant was about 900 and looming emissions standards led some industry analysts to speculate that Mack might be out of the engine business by the end of the decade.

"It shows analysts can be wrong sometimes," Gigou said, smiling.

Mack's re-emergence has been built on numerous factors, including a thriving economy and a move in the company to focus much of its efforts into the niche market of providing trucks for the construction industry, he said.

"We have to stay the specialist, and we have to be the leader in that field," Gigou said.

The strategy has paid dividends. In December of 1996, the company was making 115 engines and 55 transmissions a day at the plant. Today it makes an all-time high 168 engines and 63 transmissions a day, officials said.

"The people of this plant did a great job to be able to do that," said Olivier Vidal, 38, who was recently named plant manager.

His goal is to get production up to 178 engines and 64 transmissions a day by the end of the year.

Last year Mack recalled the last of its workers laid off a decade ago and hired new production employees for the first time since the 1980s.

Vidal said there likely will be some jobs added to meet even more demand, though he did not have specific goals. Other people will need to be hired to replace expected retirements in a work force where the average age is 53.

Bringing in new, well-trained employees is a challenge, as will be the ongoing effort to modernize the plant and further its efficiency so that it will be an important part of the company for years to come, officials said.

"That plant is part of Mack. It's part of the past, it's part of the present, and it will be part of the future," Gigou said.

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