Ashley Frye | Crain's Nashville

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ashley Frye


Founded in 1987, the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association was launched to expand and support the booming industry in the state. The organization has since widened its scope to encompass out-of-state companies. Earlier this year, Ashley Frye was hired as the organization's first-ever executive director.

The Mistake:

Over the years, I've had the privilege to conduct automotive business on five continents, with 31 different automobile manufacturing plants in 11 different companies. I've been able to take a look at how automobile manufacturing is conducted in all those various locations and it's had a bit of an impact on me and how I have run my responsibilities over the years. My intent is to leverage all my experience to help all of our members.

That mistake took place almost at the very beginning of my career. I'll have to say on the front-end that automobile manufacturing is a high-stakes game and it doesn't tolerate mistakes very well. When you're starting in the business, you can get away with a few mistakes as part of your learning process, but you can't commit too many along the way.

I was an engineer just starting in the business, and it was one of my first equipment projects in which another engineer had been given the responsibility to develop a set of specifications on a piece of equipment and to have it fabricated by a business up in Detroit. Very close to the time when that equipment was supposed to ship, it was handed off to me.

Here’s my mistake: When I went up to the fabricator that designed and produced that piece of equipment, I did not talk to the customer that was going to use it. I did not talk to the production people; nor did I talk to the maintenance guys who were going to be responsible for taking care of that piece of equipment. So I went up and reviewed the equipment, which was using a form of machine controls that the plant it was going to didn't have any familiarity with. I didn't recognize that when I went up to execute the buy-off.

During the buy-off process, everything was in order, and I signed off on it and brought that piece of equipment down here. The consequence was that no one liked it. It was a very difficult, painful process that was almost a year long to finally get all of those issues resolved to where the maintenance guys could work on it and the production operators were good with using it.

Automobile manufacturing is a high-stakes game and it doesn't tolerate mistakes very well.

The Lesson:

As consequence of that event, I've learned a lesson that I've followed throughout the rest of my career. First of all, you have to well-define what the process requirement is for a piece of equipment. I learned to go to the end user, and I would bring the production guys together along with a maintenance guy, and together we would define the process requirements.

Following this instance, we actually established a standard bill of materials so that when bidding out a piece of equipment, we would make sure they weren't designing it with a component that wasn't in use in the plant already.

This lesson, while I've been talking about equipment, is applicable to any decision-making process and it's formed the way I go about conducting all of my business. It was always important for me to reach out to the people who would be impacted by my decisions so I could seek out some of their feedback.

As a plant manager, I spent a minimum of half of my day wandering around the operations areas and talking to the workers. Even when I was trying to formulate some ideas about how we would establish a new policy or change a policy, I would go out there and float ideas around.

If you offer cooperation to the folks you're trying to do a transaction with, acceptance of whatever you want to do is so much easier to come by.

The Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association is on Twitter at @TennAuto.

Photo courtesy of Logan Moore.

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