Automotive Executive’s Pioneering Mindset
Want to understand automotive executive Ron Meier? Grab a copy of Willa Cather’s My Antonio-a 1918 published novel that’s stuck with him for decades. In the late 1800’s story, Jim and Antonio’s families settle on the Nebraska prairie. Though their lives take very different paths, they remain lifetime platonic friends. Throughout the book, Cather captures the great American spirit, portrays the vast landscape and reveals the mindset, determination and willpower of the pioneering people. “The characters and setting bring North Dakota childhood memories back to me and remind me of the many who’ve come in and out of my life over time,” reflects Ron.
Ron’s attraction to pioneering stories comes naturally. In the fall of 1966, the Meier family of seven relocated from rural south central North Dakota to Ypsilanti, Michigan. Worn out by farming, Mr. Meier boarded a train for Michigan where he secured a Ford Motor Company job. After finding housing, he sent for his family who moved the day after Thanksgiving, pulling a small rental trailer behind their car.
Ron is adaptable to relocations. To date, he has lived in eight places, mostly for work advancements. Today he and Karen, his wife of 35 years, reside in southern California. They are the proud parents of five sons and a daughter. Their lives are blessed with two grandchildren and two more are expected in 2017. Theirs is a full and rich life created by the personality traits Cather used to describe pioneering Midwesterners: hardworking, faithful, persistent and determined.
Rising through the Ranks of the Automotive Industry
Ron worked his way up the automotive industry career ladder using these pioneering traits. In 1978, he started as an hourly employee in the Hydra-matic transmission factory (a division of General Motors). Today he is the Western Executive Regional Director for Chevrolet in Moorpark, California. He’s responsible for sales in 13 western states, including Alaska and Hawaii.
His path was anything but a paved highway. Along the way, he was an apprentice powerplant mechanic and a Journeyman (skilled tradesman) powerplant mechanic at Hydra-matic. He paid his own way through night school, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration (Accounting and Finance) degree in 1984. He then was a salaried cost accountant at Hydra-matic. His MBA in International Business followed in 1990.
General Motors World Headquarters then offered him a staff assistant role in the GM corporate accounting and finance department. In 1995, he became a GM administrator working in numerous staff functions as a people leader. Four years later (1999) he was relocated to the field staff as a financial administrator supporting the GM Sales, Service and Marketing staff.
Ron became a Buick and GMC Zone Manager (OH, MI, PA and KY) in 2007 and was promoted to Senior Zone Manager (IL, IN and WI) in 2013 before promotion to his current role of Western Executive Regional Director.
“I’ve stayed with GM because I’ve developed a passion for what I do. Additionally, I work around some of the best and brightest people in the industry. GM has evolved into a well-run, innovative and dynamic company in a dynamic industry.”
Recession & Celebrity at GMC
Ron’s most memorable career experience is the 2008-9 economic recession. “These were troubled times filled with high anxiety. No one knew how things would turn out. In times like these, it becomes abundantly clear how important faith, hard work, focus and the values instilled in childhood are in overcoming adversity.”
Because of what Ron does professionally, throughout his career, he has had the opportunity to meet many public figures like Peyton Manning, Shaquille O’Neal, Erin Andrews, Fred Couples, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, and more. Meeting these individuals makes him realize that people generally have the same hopes, fears, concerns, etc. no matter how famous they are. “They just perform on a larger stage.”
Ron’s first leadership role was drum major for his high school marching band. “Back in those days one was chosen based on musicianship, physical ability and leadership. I realized then that people do not necessarily follow you because of your title, but they will follow you if you lead them.”
Traits of a Good Leader
- A good leader sees diversity of his group as a strength and finds ways to extract the best thinking from its members. “Over the years, I’ve found when people understand how what they do fits into the overall success of the organization and they feel they’ve contributed to that success, I’m on my way to developing an engaged, high-performing team.”
- People relate to leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and show some humanity.
- A good leader is also a good teacher.
- A good leader is a powerful and prolific communicator who not only focuses his group on what needs to be done but also the “why” behind the “what.”
- A good leader defines what success looks like and effectively conveys how this success benefits the entire group.
Ron looks for several characteristics in leaders. “You don’t need to be a leader of people to possess these characteristics. Each is important in business. You are more likely to succeed if you can build an organizational culture where these are valued.”
- Personal Capability
- Results Oriented
- Acceptance of Responsibility
- Accountability for Results
- Strong Interpersonal Skills
- Being a Change Agent through Innovation
- Strong Character and Integrity
Principles & Values
“The dumbest mistake I made in my early life was thinking that reaching out to others for help or guidance was a sign of weakness.” Through conversations with others and a lot of self-reflection, Ron’s realized reaching out to the right people at the right time can be a smart move. “It enables you to get a fresh perspective and resolve a lot of issues, perhaps more quickly.”
- Be Responsible– “Own It”- Doing so helps one acknowledge his mistakes, take corrective action and learn from mistakes rather than pointing fingers at others or circumstances.
- Be Self-Motivated-No need to wait for an invitation to do what needs to be done…do it!
- Put Others First-Be part of something bigger than yourself. While some self-indulgence can be healthy, the majority of time should be spent in service of others.
UpSide of Downs a 501(c) (3) Non-Profit Organization
Ron and Karen put these principles to use in 1996 shortly after their son Steven was born with Downs Syndrome. They created UpSide of Downs in response to a lack of helpful information for parents and caregivers of these children. “We wanted current and less depressing information.” Initially they assembled materials into a booklet but today have a website that has branched into an informational source for caregivers of special needs children, adults and captives of dementia disease.
Not on the Golf Course
One’s not likely to find Ron on the golf course. “If pressed into service because of work, I’ll go and have a good time. But, the amount of time needed to become decent makes me turn away from the game.” Instead Ron spends as much time as he can with his family, attends church regularly and works on projects around the house, whittling away his “to-do” list.
Ron’s greatest joy comes from the blessings of seeing what wonderful people his children have developed into and the fine people they’ve married. Seeing the legacy being passed on in the parenting of their children is an added bonus.
Happy and Proud Influencers
If asked, Ron’s three cited influencers would likely list the same source of personal joy. Each of them possesses pioneering traits similar to the characters in Cather’s My Antonio. His dad Steve had a strong work ethic, a deep Catholic faith, a sense of humor and was known for how well he treated people. His mom Margaret taught him the skills for living and values that kept him on the straight and narrow. And, his wife Karen, the mother of their six children (two with Down Syndrome), has been a gift to his life. She managed their family life while he completed two degrees, primarily through night school; navigated many corporate relocations and supported him through his own life’s journey.
Share this with others who will learn from Ron’s journey and approach to life, especially those seeking to be leaders with a pioneering mindset.
Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who has hired and developed teams of professionals. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. Today she consults and writes for organizations and conducts undercover visits to improve guest and visitor experiences.
© Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason
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