As an extension of our long-running popular series of “Why We Do What We Do” articles, this month we tracked down TAMA Executive Director Ashley Frye to get a perspective from outside Michigan — and even the Midwest. We’re still in the automotive industry, however, as Frye has more than 34 years of history in automobile manufacturing.
Frye was one of the first local hires at Nissan’s Tennessee plant in 1981 and went on to spend a total of 22 years working in process engineering. Attending night schools, he earned his Master’s degree in Industrial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University, which provided invaluable insight in process design and shop operational management. Frye was the engineering project manager responsible for the final assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, but just as that new plant was launching, Hyundai coaxed him away to be part of his third Greenfield project in the U.S. As part of the construction and start-up team, Frye’s team recruited and trained the final assembly workforce and his last six years were as vice president and plant manager for all vehicle and engine assembly. Although he retired in 2015 and moved back to Tennessee, retirement just didn’t seem to fit, so about a year later, when an opportunity in the form of TAMA’s first full time Executive Director came along, he was ready to take it on. “I just love automotive manufacturing” he explains. “I love cars and process and facility engineering. I couldn’t think of a reason NOT to do it.”
Here, Frye shares his perspective on why busy, successful people keep working.
AIAG: What are your current role and responsibilities?
Frye: I knew what I was getting into with TAMA because, in 2009, when I was the newly minted Hyundai plant manager, I was invited to speak at my first Southern Automotive Conference, hosted by the Alabama Automotive Manufacturing Association. The SAC is an annual gathering of the Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia AMA’s that also includes OEMs, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers. While mainly from the south, members represent all areas of the U.S. I ended up participating almost every year in SAC, as well as in other in-state conferences, so I got to know that side of the world pretty well.
TAMA started as association in 1987 to help Japanese automotive companies assimilate into the U.S. business culture. For all those years, it was managed by an all-volunteer board of directors. Most were plant managers who were like me; they have all they can do to handle their own very big jobs. To go to the next step, TAMA knew it needed full-time leadership to provide organizational support and structure. That idea rose to the top of TAMA’s priority list after a Brookings report recognized the economic impact of automotive in Tennessee and recommended that trade associations work together to provide support. Now, I provide that organizational support, but TAMA still has an all-volunteer board that remains actively engaged in supporting automotive manufacturing in Tennessee.
When I came on board, I first reached out to members to ask what I could do for them. The answers came across loud and clear: help with workforce development followed by a request for networking and education opportunities. TAMA now has a presence working with state educational institutions, and we have increased the number of workshops and conferences that allow our members to gather. Overall, I can say the response to all those things has been quite positive and is best demonstrated through the growth of our membership. The activity is growing and, while I’m the only TAMA full-timer, the association is supported by marketing firm Hall Strategies, which provides administrative, marketing, and website management.
AIAG: How did your work at TAMA evolve into your involvement with AIAG?
My familiarity with AIAG goes back several years before our current collaboration, and I recognized AIAG’s remarkable ability to support education and share resources then. After meeting with AIAG Executive Director J. Scot Sharland and Greg Creason, we agreed to join each other’s organizations and soon began planning our first event — the upcoming Southern Automotive Corporate Responsibility Event on August 15, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. Our choice of corporate responsibility as a focus was driven by what we saw as our need for this type of education, which isn’t readily available. People try to do the right thing, but you don’t know what you don’t know — so having a chance to co-host this type of event was an easy decision. It also helped that AIAG already has a Summit model; it’s an event that takes a lot of work and a fair amount of knowledge and experience, as well.
AIAG: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are proud of?
I’m excited about this conference because it is a win/win for everyone involved. TAMA benefits because we have wanted to host a prominent event to encourage members to send their staff people. Cohosting this conference with AIAG will elevate TAMA’s brand and status. It will help us be seen as a resource to help the industry recruit new workers.
I believe AIAG will also benefit because the event will spread their image beyond Michigan and the Midwest into areas where they are not as well known.
Member companies will benefit, too. If we educate our personnel, they will be more prepared to comply effectively and efficiently when the need arises. Additionally, as a company engages its employees to perform better, it becomes known as a better place to work. That’s very important, because there is a great need both to develop current personnel and attract new workers.
AIAG: Tell us about a mentor who gave you great advice.
In addition to my dad, who was a 30-year Air Force pilot who taught me the value of good character and hard work, the greatest influence came from Joseph Morgan, Echo Troop Commander 1st Squadron 10th Cavalry. I enlisted in the army as a private in the Airborne Infantry, was later selected to attend Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned in the Armor Branch serving in Germany. As an Armored Cavalry Platoon Leader, I served under Captain Morgan who was fond of saying, “Yesterday’s home run never wins today’s game.” I heard him use that over and over in coaching moments, and it still rings true today. Everyone has the potential to do more; never take “No” for an answer.
Do you know someone who has been an excellent role model? Email Thomas Marcetti at [email protected].