Wilmer "Wil" Cooksey, general manager of the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant, will retire in March.
Paul Graham, who is currently assistant plant manager of GM's Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., will succeed Cooksey on Jan. 1.
Cooksey said now is the best time to leave - following the successful implementation of GM's new global manufacturing system at the plant, as well as recent negotiations with the United Auto Workers union that secured local jobs and future production of the Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac XLR.
"It's great to go out when you're on top (rather) than when you're struggling," he
"Basically when I look at where I am today, my plant here in Bowling Green is in the best position than it's ever been in."
Looking back at 1993 - when Cooksey
was brought in after serving in Fairfax, Doraville and St. Louis assembly plants - he
saw an operation that needed a reality check or was otherwise on the verge of closing.
Before everyone was acutely aware that changes had to be made, Cooksey
rolled up his
sleeves to address the concerns from upper management - concerns many employees weren't even aware of.
"You would be amazed at some people's thoughts that some people thought everything was fine or OK and not really realizing what home office thought," Cooksey
leadership, the plant saw $30 million in changes before the Corvette C5 was launched.
A new cleaning room apparatus and auto storage retrieval system decreased painting defects and cut down the time it took to fix cars with paint problems.
also started using the concepts of "lean manufacturing" in 1994 to revamp workplace standards and was met with some opposition.
But what was once a pocket of resistance to implementing GM's concepts of lean manufacturing - eliminating waste, keeping costs in line and other values - ended up being a shining star for both Cooksey
and the plant.
A recent corporate audit that gauged employees' level of understanding on operating in a global manufacturing system showed 83 percent proficiency - better than all of GM's other plants in North America, he
"We ended up being number one in the corporation right here in Bowling Green, Ky.," Cooksey
"We're looking at being 100 percent next go-round.
You never go back, you keep focusing forward.
We don't have the low hanging fruit anymore, you have to go way up high on the tree."
said what he
will miss the most is the people he's
worked for and with.
The Fort Worth, Texas, native describes himself as a tolerant leader who listens to people and makes decisions based on loads of information he
noticed many of the employees were driving cars made by GM's competitors, he
established a parking lot for non-GM vehicles in the back of the plant.
wanted to send a message.
"Somehow, I had to give them some awareness on how serious it is to support the company."
Eldon Renaud was bargaining chairman for UAW Local 2164
Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Walker, meanwhile, said Cooksey is a man who "brings people together to achieve" and is committed to the local community.
Cooksey said he will remain in Bowling Green and continue serving in leadership positions for several local organizations, including the boards of the National Corvette Museum, Greenview Hospital, Tennessee State University's Foundation Board of Trustees (he completed his undergraduate work there in 1965), Western Kentucky University's School of Business Advisory Board and the WKU College of Education and Behavioral Science.
can also be seen as GM's representative for ads in Ebony and Essence magazines
in support of the company's diversity efforts.
In retirement, Cooksey plans to increase his
pursuit of his
hobbies, which include drag racing and flying airplanes.
plans to squeeze in 25 days of vacation before he
officially hangs up the reins in March, he
looks forward to spending much more time with his
wife, Elizabeth, a professor at WKU
two children, David and Crissy, and three grandchildren, J.D., Katrina and Kieara.