The past decade or so has been a challenging time in car manufacturing. It is a source of pride that this area can boast a productive General Motors plant in the Town of Tonawanda, where union and management have made it work.
Key to that success has been Steve Finch, who for the past 11 years has navigated the plant over some rough roads. Finch has been a stellar leader. It is with goodwill and happiness that those who work at the facility – as well as the community that benefited – can wish him well in his recently announced retirement, effective Dec. 11.
The Buffalo native spent has 41 years with GM. During his tenure as plant manager, the company invested heavily, to the tune of nearly $3 billion, including $296 million announced last December for a new engine line.
The industry is changing. Unlike baby boomers and the oldest Generation Xers, millennials are not car-obsessed. They prefer ride hailing with the likes of Uber and Lyft. Car manufacturers are working to conform to the times.
Vehicles are being made with better mileage. There is an emphasis on hybrid and electric-powered trucks and cars. And then there is the promise – or threat, depending upon one’s viewpoint – of a self-driving future.
Technology has put pressure on just about every industry, and automation has remade the way things are done in manufacturing. More robots and fewer humans are on the plant floor. It’s a new day.
That’s what is in Finch’s rearview mirror, and, at 59, he has a lot to look back on. It began in 1976 when he started with the company as a co-op student at the Chevrolet gear and axle plant in Buffalo. He spent 30 years throughout the company before returning as the Tonawanda plant manager in 2006.
Finch and the United Auto Workers Local 774 found common ground in an industry in the midst of upheaval. They were able to work together to keep hundreds employed and set an example.
GM’s continued investment in the plant speaks to the success of that mutually beneficial relationship. Finch has served in many volunteer roles here, including the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, the AAA of Western & Central New York, and the Buffalo Urban League. In 2014, the Urban League presented him with its Whitney M. Young and William Evans Humanitarian Award, the group’s highest honor. He is a trustee and deacon at Zion Dominion Global Ministries.
He is an example for any young person aspiring to become a strong leader, who is able to successfully navigate a changing business model for the benefit of company, colleagues and the community.