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Zac Durkin

Day 1:

The day began with a trip to Ford Headquarters. There we met on a third floor conference room with Mr. Dennis Tosh and Ms. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick. Mr. Tosh was responsible for the management of the cash reserves of Ford, which total in the several billions of dollars. He manages quite an impressive portfolio. He meets with many execs of Wall Street to work out loans and investments. Ms. Cromwick is a head economist with Ford. Her job seems pretty tedious, as she has to interpret charts and numbers all day, but overall, she is very vital to the company. She is responsible for keeping Ford updated with recent consumer trends and demographics. After describing their respective responsibilities, they fielded a number of questions regarding Ford and the auto industry as a whole.

After Ford we headed over to Federal Mogul. Fed Mogul is a Tier 1 supplier. Basically, they supply millions of specific parts that many automakers use when they assemble their vehicles. Fed Mogul focuses on parts that deal with the powertrain, mostly pistons and spark plugs. At one station in the tour, we talked with an engineer who specifically deals with conductors within the spark plug. He seem pretty excited to showcase his work, and let us see a new generation of spark plug conductor that is more efficient than anything created. It was interesting to see an item that isn’t even in production yet. I could definitely tell that Federal Mogul was very tech-heavy. I didn’t understand most of the lingo being used, but it was obvious that they wanted quality over quantity. All around the laboratories, computer simulations were being run and analyzed just so the engineers could tweak a pistons just a microscopic bit just to make it even a tiny bit more efficient. I didn’t realize until Federal Mogul how precise these machines have to be. These guys were freaking out if a measurement was off even by the thickness of one human hair.

After Federal Mogul we headed over to the University of Michigan for a nice campus tour led by Professor Smitka’s brother. It was nice seeing what UMich was working with in terms of classrooms and technology. I’m definitely not jealous of their classroom sizes. After that we went to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate our non-existent Mexican heritage. After holding the line for an hour, we decided to chief on a taco stand outside.


Day 2:

The day began with a trip to the Federal Reserve. We got to see the vault and the counting room where millions of dollars are counted everyday. It was an incredibly secure and advanced facility, one that painted a stark contrast to the neighborhood it was in. We went up to the office space in the Reserve where we met with Dr. Paul Traub and Mr. Martin LaVelle. Dr. Traub gave us a nice lecture about the auto industry and the factors that caused the collapse of the Detroit 3. I had never taken Macro, so I didn’t understand a majority of the concepts being thrown around. I almost fell asleep several times during this lecture. Dr. Traub then gave the room to Mr. Martin LaVelle. Mr. LaVelle gave a lecture on why Detroit went bankrupt and how to catapult Detroit out it.

We then went back to the Ford HQ to meet with Mrs. Fields of Ford’s HR department. She gave us a lecture on Ford’s strategy for the future especially concerning the CEO shift from Mullaly to Mark Fields. She then discussed the future of Ford regarding her departments recruitment of new talent. She talked about how degrees in mathematics and engineering will in high demand in the years to come.

We capped off Day 2 with a Tiger’s game. Luckily, the Tigers crushed the Astros and we got to see a Miguel Cabrera home run.


Day 3:

We began Day 3 with a visit to the Heidelberg Project, started in a rough neighborhood of Detroit by Tyree Guyton. While it was raining throughout the entirety of our visit, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing what the project was doing to help the community. Mr. Guyton is a very interesting man with a lot of ideas.

After the Heidelberg Project we had a short visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts. It was amazing seeing artistic pottery that had survived for thousands of years. The Diego Rivera mural was incredibly impressive as well.

After our quick time at the DIA, we met with engineers and researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. These researchers told us what they thought the future of automobiles held in store, particularly relating to alternative powertrains, including electric vehicles. They also talked to us about active and passive driver assistance devices as well as the future of autonomous vehicles.

We ended Day 3 with a dinner with a few writers from Automotive News. Hot topics during the dinner consisted of the struggles of Detroit, life as a journalist, as well as the future of electric automobiles.


Day 4

Day 4 began with a tour of the Rouge manufacturing facility. It was interesting to see how the assembly line was still a staple of the plant a hundred years after it was utilized in car manufacturing by Henry Ford. I also enjoyed seeing my favorite American car, the Ford Raptor being assembled before my very eyes.

We were able to quickly tour the Ford Museum, where I was able to see the Bugatti Royale, a Duesenberg, the Tucker, as well as a very nice DC-3, which happens to be my favorite classic plane.

After the Ford Museum, we headed over to BorgWarner, another Tier 1 supplier. BW was another high-tech facility, and seemed like a great company to work for. BW works on internal components, including transmissions and the likes.

We then visited another Tier 1 supplier, Brose. There we met with the electronics director, David Brink. He was able to give us a quick overview of the parts that Brose designs, including seats, seat belt devices, window devices, and the new kick-activated lift.

We ended our last day in Detroit at an alumni reception at a law firm in Detroit. A speaker there at the law firm gave us a quick talk about the struggles of the Detroit 3 as well as the bankruptcy of the city. It was great making connections and talking with W&L alumni.

Prof’s comments

Thanks for the retrospective. It’s interesting to see how what captured your attention differs here and there from what others saw. I’m glad you got the “hi-tech” message from Federal-Mogul, just one taste of the complexity of a modern car. You also went into more detail a few other places, and have careful choice of words, “rough neighborhood” is an understatement in some ways (is there much “neighborhood” left). Rough, perhaps, and so that there’s a resident well over age 100 (and another who just passed, at age 110) should be doubly sobering: how do those who can’t move out survive from day to day?

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