The Comeback of Caterpillar

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  • Topic: Caterpillar Inc., Diesel engine, Unfair labor practice
  • Pages : 6 (2142 words )
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  • Published : March 21, 2007
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The Comeback of Caterpillar, 1985-20002


Caterpillar, the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment was formed in 1925 when the Holt Company, a combine manufacturer who created the Caterpillar tractor; merged with the Best Tractor Company and moved their headquarters to Peoria, IL. The first company to use a diesel engine on a moving vehicle in 1931; discontinued their combine business shortly after to focus on road-building, construction, logging, and pipe laying equipment. Caterpillar supplied the U.S. Army with bulldozers during WWII, and its sales tripled in the early 1940's when they included motor graders, diesel engines, and electric generators in their product line. After WWII, demand for Caterpillar products sprung forth and their equipment was used to build the interstate highways and airports as well as rebuild Europe and construct dams in Third World countries. The company produced high quality, reliable products with fast delivery and service when replacements were needed which set them apart from any competition. By the mid 1960's they had established foreign manufacturing subsidiaries in several countries and had a successful alliance with Mitsubishi in Japan. Caterpillar's network of self-sustaining dealerships and distribution centers contributed to their success by developing close relationships with their customers since they were strategically located throughout the world. Competition in the U.S. and Europe was weak and with Caterpillar's quality products they were able to charge premium prices for their products, pay production workers union scale, and provide their shareholders high return rates on their equity while enjoying profits. After recording a record year in sales and profits in 1981, the next three years showed record losses caused by global recession, a long and costly union strike, and a steep rise in the value of the dollar which made exports more expensive and imports cheaper. While the value of the dollar affected Caterpillar adversely, their rival Komatsu Limited of Japan took advantage and penetrated the U.S. market and went after their Latin American and Europe markets as well by increasing quality and reducing costs. Komatsu doubled their market share while Caterpillar lost 25 percent of theirs. Leadership Style (George Schaefer vs. Donald Fites):

George Schaefer, Caterpillar's CEO from 1985-1990 responded to the changing environment by with dramatic strategic initiatives in every area of the company including purchasing, manufacturing, marketing, personnel, and labor relations. Labor relations were strained from a record 205 day strike in 1982 and in order to turn the company around, a good relationship with the union was necessary. George Schaefer's leadership style was cooperative, open and communication of information was encouraged from officers all the way down to production workers. He was low-key and down to earth with an exceptional ability to relate to people. His management style led to an amicable relationship between Caterpillar and the union where he encouraged employee involvement. He incorporated an Employee Satisfaction Process (ESP), groups of teams that met voluntarily on a weekly basis with management and made process improvement and quality suggestions which led to increased productivity, quality and satisfaction. During his tenure, there were no strikes during contract negotiations. Donald Fites leadership style was completely opposite of Schaefer's in that he believed in top down management and did not hesitate to cut jobs the instant he felt it was necessary. As an executive, he was feared by his subordinates, respected by his peers, and cheered by Wall Street. Fites led by command, not consensus. With many years spent in Japan as the marketing director of Caterpillar-Mitsubishi, he admired Japanese approach to development and labor relations. Labor relations during Fites tenure was strained due to his...
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