Autosystems America:

A Challenge to

“Think Differently”

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged through the metropolitan Detroit area in April, managers at Autosystems America kept in constant touch with the plant’s 350 idled employees, dozens of whom had lost family and friends to the illness. Word spread quickly in that Magna community when one employee lost eight family members during that brutal spring.

Every day, managers called employees to ask how they were coping and what their concerns were for the restart of work at the Plymouth, Michigan facility. They also set up a hotline and sent a regular COVID-19 newsletter to the workforce detailing new health and safety measures.

The greatest challenge to restarting production at the plant that makes headlamps, taillamps and exterior lighting?

“Fear,” said Shawn Bentley, the division’s general manager. “Overcoming it was an incredible task.”

The fear encompassed the entire workday, including such seemingly mundane things as “where do I put my lunch” to keep it from becoming contaminated, said Hank Jonkman, assistant general manager.

“A lot of people bring coolers to work, so the plant’s handyman took the doors off all the storage cabinets and divided them into compartments,” he said. “We did the same thing with the refrigerators in the cafeteria. It was a matter of getting the employee feedback, brainstorming, and then sharing best practices like this with other Magna divisions.”

Before employees returned to work on May 18, Autosystems America was being transformed into “the safest place our employees could go,” Bentley said, from touchless timeclocks to social-distancing barriers. Those barriers are designed to be re-used as robot cages and automation cells when the crisis ends. Employees are also coached to be diligent in maintaining safety practices inside and outside of work.

“The crisis challenged us to think differently,” Bentley said. “Some things, such as ‘I’m coming to work no matter how sick I am,’ were just traditions or old-school thinking. Now, the last thing you want to do is come to work sick. You are hurting other people.”

It’s no surprise that this general manager’s heroes are Lee Iacocca, the visionary automotive legend who ran the Ford Motor Co. and then Chrysler Corp., and Muhammad Ali, the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion.

“These two individuals are super heroes to me,” said Bentley. “They are leaders who overcame the most challenging circumstances.”

Just like his team members at Autosystems America.

“I have such pride in everyone,” he said. “These were people fighting to get back to work. Today, I can see the smiles behind the face masks. It feels so good.”

I have such pride in everyone, these were people fighting to get back to work. Today, I can see the smiles behind the face masks. It feels so good.

Left to right, Peter Psiakas, Mariece Tyson, Pankujamar Patel, Ahmed Tarki, Fredrick Herron, Tina Caudle, Christina Gregoire, Nayna Kunjadia (Associates)