Dick Dauch’s handshake was a bone crusher – not meant to do bodily harm, but merely reflecting his zest for life. Oh, and pity the guy he’d playfully slap on the back.
Dauch was a fullback and linebacker at Purdue and still looked the part as he aged: tall, trim and muscular.
He was best known as co-founder and driving force behind American Axle & Mfg., the Detroit-based producer of axle and drivetrain components.
Dauch died Aug. 2 at age 71. He had turned over day-to-day responsibility of AAM last year to his son, David, but remained on as chairman.
I interviewed Dick numerous times over the years. The first time was shortly after he was hired by Lee Iacocca as Chrysler’s manufacturing vice president in 1980.
He obviously was excited about his new assignment. Halfway through the interview he grabbed the tassel of a large folding shade to reveal a graphic showing all of Chrysler’s future vehicles. I scribbled furiously to get details of this secret information, eying a major scoop. But after a fleeting look, he pulled the shade back down. “That’s enough,” he laughed.
Dauch started his automotive career at General Motors in 1964, and he was only 30 when he was selected to manage one of its largest plants. In 1976, he was chosen as group vice president-manufacturing at Volkswagen’s Pennsylvania transplant facility. His next stop was at Chrysler, where he retired at age 48 in 1992 as executive vice president-worldwide manufacturing.
Two years later Dauch co-founded AAM, starting out with acquisition of GM’s Detroit Gear & Axle’s 5-factory complex in Detroit, which he had once managed.
AAM grew quickly after that, and its operations now extend worldwide. Sales this year are running at a rate above $3 billion.
Dauch will be remembered as a demanding boss, but also as a generous philanthropist. He has given millions, for example, to Purdue, where he once played bone-crushing football.