Plant managers play many different roles. In France, they've even been playing the role of "hostage" during a recent slew of plant sieges.


If I ever get around to writing a play about manufacturing, I will probably insist that real plant managers play the lead roles rather than hired actors.

I have met quite a few plant managers over the years and I’ve always marveled at how they manage to wear many different hats and play multiple roles while keeping their facilities operating smoothly. During a typical work day, they often serve as a football coach, a cheerleader, a traffic cop, an accountant and a politician, among other roles.

During the Assembly Summit in Chicago last week, I had an opportunity to chat with several plant managers who work for large multinational manufacturers. We talked about the usual stuff, such as current business conditions and the challenges of continually practicing continuous improvement. But, a disturbing topic came up – plant managers playing an entirely new role; hostage.

Believe it or not, that has happened several times recently in Europe (France, in particular), where siege mentality still seems to exist, even though the Dark Ages disappeared into history more than 500 years ago.

Recently, workers at a Sony videotape plant in Pontonx-sur-l’Adour, France, locked the plant manager in a room. A 3M executive is being held hostage by angry workers at a medical device plant in Pithiviers. And, four executives were released yesterday after being held overnight at a Caterpillar plant in Grenoble.

Last year, there were similar occurrences in France at a Michelin tire plant and other facilities. In each “bossknapping” situation, employees are protesting recent job cuts and plant closings. Unemployment in France jumped 19 percent in February from a year earlier.

Some experts believe that the hostage trend may eventually work its way over to the United States. In fact, several months ago, in a scene straight out of a Depression-era newsreel, workers at Republic Windows & Doors staged a sit-in at an assembly plant on the North Side of Chicago.

So far, the plant managers taken hostage in Europe have reportedly been treated kindly – they’ve just been locked up inside their offices. I hope this trend does not spread beyond Europe. But, plant managers on this side of the Atlantic should be prepared in case they have to play a new role. Just in case, I suggest keeping a stack of ASSEMBLY magazines handy.