Editorial: Leadership at Freightliner sets community-friendly tone

Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rowan County could use more business leaders like Henning O. Bruns, plant manager at Daimler Trucks’ Freightliner plant in Cleveland. Bruns, who grew up in Germany and has worked for Daimler since 1991, operates in a global sphere. But involvement in the local community matters to him, too.

Bruns welcomed members of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce to a breakfast and tour of his plant on Thursday. He has worked four years in South America and Brazil, 10 in Europe and 10 in the United States, he said. He moved his family to Mooresville in 2015, soon after he took the Cleveland position. His wife teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; his daughter goes to Brawley School in Mooresville.

Among Bruns’ early moves at the Freightliner plant was to lay off 1,500 people, a cut which he said was unavoidable. At that point in early 2016, Bruns could have turned his back on the community, and vice versa. But that has not been the case.

Bruns dropped some names as he talked about getting to know Rowan County.

• He joined the N.C. Manufacturing Initiative, he said, at the invitation of Elaine Spalding of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and Craig Lamb of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

• Thanks to Denise Hallett and Jackie Harris — a devoted volunteer and a key staff person at the Rowan County United Way — Bruns is on that group’s board. The Freightliner plant and its employees have been generous United Way supporters.

• Bruns has also gotten to know Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Bruns alluded to help the county has given the company — in the form of tax incentives OK’d in 2015 for an expansion, perhaps — and offered some reassurance. “We will do this, and there will be even more coming.”

Bruns said the plant might be able some day to open its truck museum to the public. He envisions a place where visitors would see not only trucks and memorabilia but also an old gas station and a diner. 

As for here and now, Bruns emphasizes principles that are instructional for employees as well as visitors such as the Chamber of Commerce group. High production standards and efficiency don’t happen by accident. They require hard work, planning, monitoring and constant refining. Charts displayed in the chassis line’s brain center, for example, track results throughout the day; green is good, red is waste. Accountability and motivation go hand-in-hand. The process is based on the Toyota production system, Bruns says. “They have figured it out.”

Maybe so, but it takes a disciplined manager — and workforce — to learn such a system and effectively carry it out.

While focused on productivity, Bruns takes time to get involved outside the plant. And, though he comes from an international background, Bruns is willing to work on local needs. That’s positive leadership.