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Automotive Executive of the Year - Speech from Jim O'Sullivan

Jim O'Sullivan

President and CEO, MNAO

Automotive Executive of the Year

May 6, 2009

Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, MI


Good afternoon. I am truly humbled to be standing up here today...on a stage that has graced excellent leaders and pioneers such as Kenichi Yamamoto, former president and CEO of Mazda Motor Corporation, Henry Ford II, Bill Ford, Jr., Lee Iacocca, and just last year, Carroll Shelby.  I am honored to stand before you and am very appreciative of this acknowledgment.

First and foremost I would like to recognize Robert Djurovic

and the entire board of directors of the Automotive Executive of the Year and DNV Certification.  Robert, I appreciate your group's efforts, which spans 45 years.  This award is truly a great tradition in the automotive industry, and I am thankful to have been included.

I would be remiss if I didn't recognize my family-my brothers and sisters, who are here in the audience-and especially, my wife Anne. 

I also have to give credit two other people:  The first is Lewis Booth, CFO of Ford Motor Company.  As president of Mazda Motor Corporation six years ago, he was responsible for selecting me for the job I have now.  Thank you, Lewis.

My journey to this podium actually began at the start of the 20Th century when a young man living outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, heard about a new industry and a company promising an unheard-of-at-the time $5-an-hour wage.  He packed up his family, including his three-year-old daughter, and headed for Detroit and a promise of a better life. 

That person was my grandfather.  His daughter?  Well, that's my 93-year-old mother, Mary O'Sullivan.   Sorry mom for mentioning your age.

My grandfather did indeed carve out a better life for his family, working alongside Henry Ford at the Rouge plant.   My father kept on the tradition at Ford-or Ford's, as locals called it back then-by working on both the Falcon and Mustang program teams.  In fact, most of my brothers and sisters are involved in the auto business in some way or another.  

So you see, I'm what you might call an industry lifer.  I was born right here in Detroit, went to the University of Detroit and still have lots of family living here.  My mother resides right up the road in Birmingham.  I may live in California now, but my heart remains right here in the Motor City.

This industry has been good to me and my family, as it has been to countless of Americans over the last 100-plus years.   Think of the opportunities our industry has created for people, and not just here in the U.S. but the world over...the farmer in China, the day laborer in India, the fisherman in Malaysia.

We should be proud of the fact that our industry has improved the lives of millions around the world.

And speaking of the global nature of our business, it is also what has made Mazda so successful.  Yes, we're a Japan-based company doing business in 134 countries, but the fact that I'm standing here today is also indicative of the importance my boss in Hiroshima--president and CEO Yamanouchi-san--has placed on the North American market. 

Were it not for his unwavering support and the resources he's dedicated to this market, we wouldn't have made the market share gains we've seen this year, and our very survival would be at risk. 

But surviving tough times is nothing new to Mazda.  We came very close to disappearing into the abyss a couple of times.  The first was the oil crisis in the '70's; the second was when the Japanese bubble economy burst in the early '90's. 

We dodged these two near fatal encounters thanks in no small part to our relationship with Ford Motor Company, which remains strong today.

The other reason we survived was because we returned to what Mazda was known for:  Making fun-to-drive cars. 

I'd like to thank Doner Advertising for coming up with two words that have now become synonymous with Mazda and fun to drive:  Zoom-Zoom.   Zoom-Zoom is our DNA, it is the emotion of motion, it is the soul of a sports car.  It is what we build into every one of our products.

A perfect example of Zoom-Zoom is our new MAZDA6, which is built in nearby Flat Rock, Michigan.   It's stylish and practical, yet more entertaining to drive than anyone would expect  mid-size car.

Having the right products, like the MAZDA6, at the right place at the right time is one of the tools helping us weather the greatest assault on our industry that any of us have ever seen.

In the midst of this upheaval, we've also been looking everywhere to reduce costs and making the hard decisions needed to ensure Mazda's future strength.  We have cut production, although have now reinstated much of it as we right-sized our inventory levels.  We have reduced our workforce and aligned ourselves with a great new strategic financial partner, JP Morgan Chase.   

We are still investing in product and technology development, the heart and soul of our business.  And we haven't cut R&D or design spending, because that is important for the future health of the company. 

And we have consciously worked over the past eight years to reduce our U.S. dealer count, resulting in stronger and more focused dealers.  They are instrumental to our business and success and another reason I'm receiving this award today  I'm pleased to see that some of them are in the audience today.

As the so-called captain of the ship, eyes are often fixed on me.  But if it weren't for the executive teams in the U.S., Canada and Mexico who continually perform beyond expectation, the ship wouldn't sail...I can't paddle alone.  At a small car company such as ours, everybody must collectively work a little harder, do a little more and try to be a little smarter.  I'm privileged to work with such a great group of people.

I'm not going to stand here today and pretend that I have any, much less all, of the answers for the dire situation our industry is in.  I will, however, tell you that I am certain that when we get to the other side, the automotive landscape is going to look very different than it does right now, and different even than it did just a few months ago.

The pain of this period - and the subsequent rebuilding that will take place as things improve - is shared in all areas of the business. 

The world around us is rapidly changing, and the truth is that none of us...none of us...knows for sure what the next few months will bring. 

The good news is that, regardless of all the negative news around us right now, things will get better...the industry will be back stronger than ever.

Trust me on this; the next five years in the car business-heck, even the next five weeks--are likely to be as interesting to watch as the first 100. 

We are all lucky and privileged to be working in the greatest industry in the world.

I want to tell you all again how honored I am to be here today and how grateful I am for this incredible award.  But as I said at the beginning, I may be the one up here on the stage, and my name may be the one on the plaque, but the real reason for it rests with all the wonderful people I have worked with and for in the past, and the team that I am lucky enough and honored to surround myself with every day.

I thank them, and I thank each and every one of you for being here today to share this moment with me.


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