A young business school graduate who wants to run the manufacturing operations of a Fortune 500 corporation in the next century ought to go to work for a Japanese auto maker today, says one of America's top executive recruiters.
To become chairman? Forget the finance and marketing routes, he says: Manufacturing is a new route to the top.
"We have just begun to see a resurgence in the demand for manufacturing executives," said Morgan H. Harris Jr., head of Southern California and the Pacific Basin for Korn/Ferry International. "The Japanese challenge to this country in terms of quality control has been to the manufacturing sector what Sputnik was to the high-tech sector. It woke us up: We were behind."
Indeed, America's smokestack industries are huffing and puffing their way toward the millennium with renewed strength. Total sales of the Fortune 500, a list of the nation's largest industrial concerns, climbed 9% last year to $1.88 trillion--up from $1.72 trillion the year before and higher than the previous record of $1.81 trillion set in 1985.
The companies are getting more powerful, ironically, by growing smaller and more efficient. And according to the government, the only real employment growth in U.S. manufacturing companies over the remainder of the century will be in white-collar jobs, not assembly-line jobs.
Specifically, while employment at U.S. factories is expected to drop by 0.3% over the next 12 years, output is expected to increase 2.3% a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only five of the country's 79 industries making durable goods are not expected to experience output gains; the lagging industries are railroad equipment manufacturers and the makers of steel and other metals.
Managers and engineers will be the force behind that productivity growth. Although manufacturing is projected to lose a total of 834,000 jobs between 1986 and 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be an increase of 258,000 engineering, scientific and technical positions at manufacturing companies and 85,000 more managerial jobs.
Korn/Ferry has seen it start already. In the first quarter of this year, 12% of its placements of senior executives across America were at manufacturing companies, up from 8% in the first quarter of last year. "Downsizing and a weaker dollar . . . have stimulated the demand for top-level executives who can continue to improve productivity," said the company's president, Richard M. Ferry.
Harris sees the renewed interest in factory management as a sequel to the big demand for marketing and finance specialists during the postwar era. "Extremely high growth rates in the 1950s and '60s obscured a lot of sloppy management," he said. "People who really know how to run several plants at once effectively are going to be the stars in the next decade, the next CEOs."
Not everyone wants to run a factory, however, and there are plenty of jobs available at manufacturing companies for people with financial skills.
Cost accountants, for instance, appear to be in demand by manufacturers hiring middle managers. Bob Woodall, group manager for the Los Angeles office of Management Recruiters, said his company's survey of 2,500 employers last November found an expectation of a 20% to 32% growth in hiring for middle management jobs at manufacturing companies. Primarily, he said, the companies are looking for candidates "who saved their companies dollars through procedure changes."
That is particularly true at Southern California's many aerospace manufacturers. "People who have general accounting knowledge and can communicate the needs of the government's paper work to their employers are very hot right now," said John Ormsby, president of Robert Half of Southern California. "The major aerospace companies desperately want people with skills in determining the right price for their products so profit potential can be tracked properly."
Another hot discipline at manufacturing concerns: credit managers, the people who help arrange credit for customers so they can buy a company's products.
The globalization of business is making the job extremely complicated. Instead of promoting employees from the collection desk, manufacturers who want to sell overseas are hiring experienced lenders from banks. "It's getting to be a far more sophisticated climate," Ormsby said. "Companies are trying to move away from making intuitive decisions . . . toward employees who are facile at using computers and can analyze Eurodollar equivalencies, arrange letters of credit and develop complex payment methods."
Still, the American dream is to run the place. Firms like Korn/Ferry are often called upon to recruit candidates for the top job. Here is Harris' dream resume for a vice president of manufacturing at a Fortune 500 company:
- Undergraduate degree in mechanical or electrical engineering.