Chevrolet Corvette Assembly Plant Manager Interview - Personality Profile: Wil Cooksey

Team VETTE Talks With The Corvette Assembly Plant Manager

Bob Wallace Dec 1, 2000 0 Comment(s)

"Okay, how about the Corvette plant, then? How about where the Corvettes are being built?"

And they told me, "We think we could work that out. Now that's one of our larger facilities, and it's a tougher job. But, if you feel you're really up for that, your first plant in General Motors that you're going to work at, you really want that?"

And I said, "Yeah, I want to go right where the Corvettes are!" So they set me up and transferred me in there, in St. Louis, in '76. They got me close. I was on the passenger car line where the Caprices were built at that time. I was a shift superintendent, on chassis.

We had a truck line there, and a Corvette line; Corvette was behind the old coal pile there in St. Louis. Eventually, we lost that product, the Caprice, and I had to be relocated. I figured maybe that was my chance to go to Corvette, since I was that close. There was a choice; they could either send me to truck or Corvette. I spent some time in the truck quality department, working for the quality manager. Then, a materials superintendent job became available in Corvette, and I finally got my chance to be in the Corvette operations, around the Corvette! I was in charge of all the material operations. Man, this was a great job! Finally, I'd managed to get myself into the Corvette operation.

I stayed there until 1980, when an opportunity came up for me in Georgia. They wanted a chassis-background manager at the Doraville assembly plant. I went down and interviewed, and they said, "You're the guy we'd like to have down here to help us start up a second shift." I'd gotten this close to Corvette, but figured that the move was best for my career. I'd wanted to eventually work my way up through the organization and get to "product." I figured that if they were telling me this was a good way to go, I'd do it.

I went to Doraville as a shift superintendent in production and worked my way up through various jobs there and ended up as production manager at the facility. I'm one of the fortunate guys who was able to go in and work my way up almost to the number one job; I was in the number two job at that facility.

But, I was still thinking about Corvettes, wanting to eventually get there. I said to myself, "Maybe one of these days I'll get the opportunity to get back to Corvette." Vice President Joe Spielman was in charge of the group I was in at that time, and he and the plant manager were really good friends. Joe came to him and told him that he needed me at another facility, that he thought I could really help turn things around. I was hoping it would be Corvette, but it was Kansas City. I took the transfer to Kansas City and stayed there as the number two man, production manager, for a couple of years.

Then, in 1993, Joe came back and said, "Would you like to be plant manager of Corvette operations?" That was my dream come true! It's been great ever since. I have the best job in General Motors, without a doubt! No one else has as much fun on their job as I do. The rest of my plant manager friends, they don't have this kind of enthusiasm and fun around their jobs. I'm not going to say they don't have some enthusiasm, but not as much as Corvette. Corvette is really and truly an American icon. When you think of General Motors, when you think of the best vehicle General Motors has, the first thing that comes to your mind is, "Corvette!" I sit here and think, "Hey, I have a part of this, something to do with the image. I'm a caretaker for the brand."

It gives the job a whole new meaning. I know that if and when I leave, when I retire, like the others before me who've had the distinct privilege of having this job, I can look back and think, "Here are the contributions I was able to make to this American icon." I feel real proud of what we've been able to do here during my tenure. It's real exhilarating when the customers come to us and tell us about their experiences. They'll come up and say, "I just bought a new Corvette, and it's the best Corvette that I've ever purchased!" That makes me feel real good.

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