Faces: Regional champion Don Stoegbauer

As the first Hall of Fame winner in SAMA history, he fought hard to make the southern automotive industry stronger

Don Stoegbauer. Photo credit: Dallus Whitfield

When Don Stoegbauer was called to the stage at the 2018 Southern Automotive Conference in Atlanta, he was caught off-guard.

At the time, the leaders of the Southern Automotive Manufacturers Alliance (SAMA) were already there, waiting for him with big smiles on their faces. Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association (AAMA) President Ron Davis was talking about the history of SAMA, which is operated jointly by similar state automotive manufacturing organizations.

SAMA had come together in 2017 after years of the AMAs working to create a regionally unified front.

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“There was a leader involved in this activity that was a visionary, a very strong leader and a friend across the region,” Ron Davis said. “There’s nobody who waved the flag harder, spoke louder and did a stronger job to form the SAMA organization than Don Stoegbauer.”

Then, with Stogie – as Stoegbauer is known to friends – on the stage, Davis announced the inauguration of the SAMA Hall of Fame. A surprised Don Stoegbauer became the first member.

“Well, I can tell you this, I was shocked,” he says a few months later. “I was humbled.  I didn’t expect it.  What Ron had told me was, ‘Hey, we need to know that you’re here because we’re going to wave at you and mention you as a regional guy, as a SAMA guy, and just have you get up and wave.’

“You know, it was a lunchtime meeting and I said, ‘I’ll be there, and I’ll do that.’  I had no expectation of plank owner or inaugural first-time person into this Hall of Fame.  And so, then, I was humbled by it.  I didn’t see it coming.  I have the trophy sitting on my desk in front of me.”

AAMA President Ron Davis congratulating Don Stoegbauer on winning SAMA’s first Hall of Fame award at the Southern Automotive Conference in 2018. Photo credit: Lynsey Weatherspoon

“Humble” is a word people use when describing Stoegbauer – “gentleman” is another, after decades of service to the automotive industry. Today he runs his own consultancy out of Gallatin, Tennessee. But for many years, he was the executive director of MAMA, the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association and even before that, his history in automotive goes back a long way.

He worked for General Motors for 23 years, before becoming director of Nissan North America for more than 7 years. For more than 2 years he was the consulting group leader for Hopkins Services and Management Group in Mississippi, during which time he became head of MAMA. He left MAMA in June 2017 and began his own consultancy.

“I was actually doing a little consulting when I left Nissan and then I got into being the MAMA executive director for awhile,” Stoegbauer says, adding that he started an LLC in Tennessee about a year and a half ago, serving suppliers and would-be suppliers. “I mostly focus on Tier 2s and Tier 3s that either want to get into the automotive arena or are in the automotive arena and want to expand their business without spending a whole bunch of money on brick and mortar and all that, because …after 2008 nobody wants to do a whole lot of that anymore,” he says.

“So I’ve worked with a couple of small companies here in Tennessee. I’ve been over at the Nissan plant a couple of times; I’ve been over at SaarGummi that does weather strips for a bunch of people; and that stainless and titanium tubing plant that is making fuel lines and fuel fillers and brake lines and things like that for automotive; and I’ve been doing some phone consulting with some people that want to broaden their insights in automotive in this region, as well.”

It wasn’t that long ago that the South was considered an emerging market as far as automotive was concerned, but Stoegbauer has long been an advocate of regional focus.

“When I was at MAMA, even though I was the MAMA guy, I think the other AMA presidents will tell you, I was always the regional guy; I was always the guy saying, ‘Hey, this is bigger than one state or two states.  This is a four-state or five-state, six-state deal, and as you join together and look at it as a region, you get a lot bigger and a lot more powerful.  And then a win in Tennessee can be a win in Alabama and Mississippi, as well,’ ” Stoegbauer says. Citing the new Mazda-Toyota joint venture in Huntsville, Alabama, he adds, “That’s a win for Alabama, for Tennessee and for other states, as well.”

During the sector’s formative years in the southern region, Stoegbaur says, plants grew so quickly that it was necessary to get resources from other parts of the country.  “You had to reach to the Midwest or elsewhere to get the talent you needed to be able to run and keep up with technology in some of these plants,” he recalls.  “So MAMA, TAMA, AAMA – their aim, their goal is to build the workforce we need in the region, within the region in these states.

“And so they have been a big help with scholarships and with technical training and getting companies to support technical training and getting in the high schools and in the colleges and internships and hands-on.  And so the pendulum is swinging in our direction where we can now have more homegrown technology, savvy engineers and technicians and people who …will do well in this business.”

During his time with MAMA, he saw the region get involved even in planning MAMA’s hosting of the Southern Automotive Conference, which rotates between SAMA states.

“We [MAMA] were by far the smallest AMA organization of the groups at that time,” Stoegbauer says. “I invited other AMAs to sit in on our calls to help us with planning and to be a part of the planning for our SAC.  And that got us really a whole lot more buy-in and a whole lot more of a regional approach.”

MAMA gave back to the region through its scholarship fund. MAMA’s scholarship committee introduced students to OEMs, Tier 1s, 2s, and 3s through planned events. It also encouraged companies to hire the students as interns, and put together field trips to bring the students into the plants, “so they could get hands-on understanding and see firsthand that automotive factories aren’t gray, dingy, dirty places that mom and dad used to tell you they worked in,” Stoegbauer says.

“By doing those things, we were able to engage with our scholarship recipients, get them into the automotive industry locally – at least in the region, maybe not in Mississippi, but in the region – and start retaining some of that talent here.”

Photo credit: Dallus Whitfield

His Hall of Fame win is significant to Stoegbauer because he’s always viewed the regional success of the automotive industry as a group effort, he says.

“It means a lot to me because it was my peers; it was my peers and my teammates and I considered us always that way – teammates,” he says.  “You know, I think there are people just as deserving as I might be for something like that that have done just as much, if not more. But when you go back and look at it all and they kind of laid it out to me. They said, ‘We probably wouldn’t be where we are today as a region without you pushing and prodding and leading us in that direction because we were all thinking locally and you kept thinking regionally.’

“So I’m honored.  I’m honored to be that recipient and I don’t take it lightly.”

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