The importance of diversity and inclusion in the automotive industry

Lucerne International

From day one, Lucerne International CEO Mary Buchzeiger has made diversity, equity and inclusion efforts a top priority for the company.

When she took over as CEO in 2008, she recognized immediately how the workforce resembled the demographics of her father, an older white man, and knew changes had to be made to improve the diversity of the company.

“Being a woman, and fighting through what I had to fight through to get where I am, was a difficult road,” she said. “Which is why diversity and inclusion has always been a major part of my career.”

Buchzeiger believed it was crucial to diversify the company, including creating a leadership team that better represents an inclusive culture. To Buchzeiger, diversity must be reflected at all levels of a company — from its board to its entry level employees.

“A true diverse workforce creates this expansive knowledge base that pulls from a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “Increasing diversity is both socially responsible and good for business. Without it, you have a smaller viewpoint, less ideas and therefore less innovation”

Buchzeiger isn’t the only one who sees diversity as a good business practice. Earlier this month NASDAQ requested the SEC implement a new rule for companies on the U.S. stock exchange, requiring them to have at least one woman and one underrepresented minority director on their boards.

“There has been a lot of progress in the industry, which is exciting,” Buchzeiger said. “But if we don’t continue to focus on diversity and inclusion, we can get complacent and see things regress. That would be a problem.”

She has made a point to implement inclusion efforts in both policy and practice at Lucerne. First, with a detailed non-discrimination policy readily found in every employee handbook, but also in the company culture she creates.

One of Buchzeiger’s greatest goals in life is to leave an impact on as many people as she can. She believes her thriving small business is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this goal and DEI is a large part of that.

“The biggest thing for me is creating an environment where people are not only excited to come to work each day, but feel happy, accepted and fulfilled while they’re here,” said Buchzeiger.

The future of supply chains: diversifying risk and strengthening U.S. manufacturing

Lucerne International

The pandemic has exposed flaws in many processes and the strain it has put on supply chains is no exception. Supply chains are being monitored more closely than ever this year. To be successful, it’s essential for businesses to regularly review their supply chain strategies.

CEO Mary Buchzeiger believes the key to this success lies in diversifying supply chains. Part of this step involves bringing more manufacturing back to the United States in an effort to strengthen our supply chains and provide the U.S. with greater opportunity in our globalized society.

Buchzeiger has seen the need firsthand for changes in the way supply chains and manufacturing is done. She’s outfitted Lucerne’s approach to optimize their global strategy and sees more localized manufacturing as a factor of that.

“This is a global society and we need to continue to take advantage of the benefits behind that,” she said. “But expanding and maintaining manufacturing in the U.S. is just as important.”

Chief Operating Officer, David Okonoski shares Buchzeiger’s concerns that a lack of U.S. based manufacturing could harm supply chains. There are risks to investing anywhere, such as tariffs and evolving leadership. But risk can be mitigated by diversifying to have supply flow from multiple areas.

“At the end of the day, it’s about diversifying your risk,” said Okonoski, “By not putting all of your eggs in one basket, when a tariff harms supply flow, there isn’t an immediate clog in the line.”

Buchzeiger gave the example of the PPE shortage the country experienced early on in the pandemic, something she witnessed first-hand with her venture Sure Solutions PPE. In a situation such as the recent shortage, having PPE manufactured on home soil would have provided reliable access to the essential products, instead of being beholden to an overseas supply timeline and the obstacles that brings.

She says this risk can be best diversified by giving all members of a supply chain complete visibility of the supply chain. Being aware of the process above and below your piece in the chain can help you understand where your bottlenecks are and where potential problems lie. This watch tower approach leads to an overall more productive and successful supply chain.

“It’s important to be less sensitive of where the plant is at and more sensitive of where the risks lie,” said Okonoski. “However, mitigating that risk might entail moving the plant.”

Both Buchzeiger and Okonoski say any manufacturing process is about driving continued improvement and with that comes product innovation. Having more localized manufacturing will stimulate innovation in this country.

“Globalization isn’t going backwards. It will continue to expand and grow,” said Buchzeiger. “We can be a part of that expansion by bringing more manufacturing and opportunities to the U.S., so it’s targeted in the same way as China or India.”

Adapting as Automotive Goes Virtual

Lucerne International

Like many events this year, the FCA 21st Annual Supplier Diversity Matchmaker event went virtual. The new format for the event, a complete turnaround from the typical large in-person tradeshows, forced participants to adapt quickly. To keep up, Lucerne launched its first-ever virtual booth as a part of the event. The virtual tradeshow provided diverse supplier businesses access to FCA Tier 1 suppliers and an opportunity to network with FCA buyers.

Account Manager, Christina Rupkey represented Lucerne by hosting an exhibitor booth in the event’s online portal. There, buyers and suppliers could network, instant message and meet via video call.

“Events like this are so important for suppliers like Lucerne,” said Rupkey. “It gives us a chance to get our name out there, tell our story and do business.”

Traditionally, these types of events took place in large arenas where attendees had physical booths set up outfitted with screens and posters to show off their product. In this new normal, attendees had to adapt, making sure they had a catchy tagline and good virtual presence to stand out and draw in visitors.

“I think everyone agreed that it was much more fun to do it this way, and far less stressful,” said Rupkey. “It didn’t include the hectic running around to meet people like you would normally see. Everything was in one place.”

Events like this are a testament to how the automotive industry is adapting in response to the pandemic. The industry has been forced to shift and figure things out together on a global scale. Rupkey noted time management being the biggest issue to come from this change.

“We’re not meeting in the lobby or visitors lounge anymore and shaking hands,” said Rupkey. “You’re fighting for a Zoom slot in someone’s schedule that’s planned down to the minute.”

And those digital tools are here to stay. Rupkey believes it’s crucial that companies embrace new tools as the industry turns a new leaf in the way networking is done. She says the digital era is bringing a lot of comradery with it, thanks to platforms like the virtual booth. She sees it as a change for the better as companies use it to strengthen and grow.

“It’s a different playing field these days, but the opportunity is still there,” said Rupkey. “It’s providing a better opportunity to do business and strengthen our company as a whole.”

Balancing Life Outside of Work

Lucerne International

At Lucerne, diversity in the workplace and supporting employees has always been a top priority. Every employee has responsibilities and obligations outside of work and the company feels it is important they feel supported on and off the job.

For Melissa Crook, that means leading and growing Lucerne’s quality department, while also working the most important job of all – being a mother. Crook is passionate about the automotive industry and her growth within it, but she’s also committed to being the best mom she can be for her daughter. At Lucerne, she doesn’t have to choose between the two.

Crook, Lucerne’s newest employee, is focused on helping to grow Lucerne. But as a single mom, her daughter is always her top priority. Work-life balance is incredibly important to Crook and she currently has the ability to work from home a few days a week, allowing her more time with her daughter. To her, it is crucial to work at a job where she can both grow as an employee and be there when her child needs her. After 13 years in the automotive industry, she says she’s found that at Lucerne International.

“Being a mom and a woman in a male-dominated industry can often be a hindrance to growth. But not at Lucerne,” Crook said. “A lot of times, women are held back and lose out on promotions for being moms, but that isn’t the case here and I can already see the potential growth for myself in this company.”

Working at an automotive company ran by a woman and focused on family is the perfect fit to Crook. She’s constantly reassured by President and CEO, Mary Buchzeiger who shows how you can excel as both an active and involved mother and a business leader.

“I catch myself worrying about what will happen if I have to go to Mary and say my daughter is sick and I need to be home, but quickly realize I don’t have to worry anymore,” she said. “It’s surreal and something I’m still getting used to.”

Crook says she notices Lucerne’s commitment to diversity all around her, something she’s passionate about in and outside of work. Upon being hired, she was blown away by the company’s extensive and inclusive discrimination and harassment policy, which is distributed to all employees through the employee handbook.

Lucerne’s policy goes above and beyond any federal requirements, according to Crook, which provided reassurance that the company will protect anyone and everyone, even if they don’t have to. She can tell the company firmly believes in and stands by these statements.

“It has been incredible to work for a company that cares in and outside of work hours about ending discrimination and leveling the playing field,” Crook said.

Closing the skills gap: the future of American manufacturing

Lucerne International

Earlier this year my industry had a big wake-up call. With the onset and rapid spread of COVID-19 we learned many things. The biggest among them was something I’ve known for years: we need to invest in the future of American manufacturing. At a time when we needed things made at home – from masks to ventilators – our country was caught flatfooted. Many could argue why this was – but I would like to suggest it’s a problem my industry has faced for decades: the skills gap. We need Americans in manufacturing – and we need them now.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers in Michigan account for about 20 percent of the state’s total output at 14 percent of the workforce. Beyond that, in 2018 there were 630,000 manufacturing employees making an average annual compensation of $79,320. Manufacturers are the foundation of the Michigan economy and provide sustainable careers for Michiganders – so why are we struggling to find employees?

That is one question the Whitmer administration is working to address. At the end of May, Governor Whitmer established the Michigan Workforce Development Board to strengthen the size and quality of Michigan’s labor force. The goal for the board is to ensure we’re preparing talent to work and succeed with business like Lucerne.

Beyond following the work of the Board, we’re committed to investing in the future workforce. Through our involvement with MichAuto, we are seeking ways to fill the skills gap. And, we’re committed to raising awareness among K-12 students about opportunities in manufacturing. Helping Michiganders understand the opportunities that exist in our industry is how we grow and expand our industry in our home state.

Michigan manufacturers aren’t to blame for spikes in COVID-19 cases and closure will only harm the economy.

Lucerne International

With Michigan seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, the governor has warned residents that the state could be forced backward in its phased reopening plan. A step backward would again force portions of our economy to shut down to protect the population. Shutdowns have been proven to be effective, but as a state we need to be responsible about what portions of the economy are impacted. Recently, we joined MICHAuto in sending a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urging her to resist the closure of manufacturing facilities.

MICHAuto’s letter rightfully notes that as a state we must balance a responsible level of social and economic activity to keep ourselves safe while preserving the economy. While the governor has to take crucial steps in protecting Michigan residents, shutting down manufacturers isn’t the answer.

Since reopening, no major COVID-19 outbreaks have been associated with any automotive manufacturing facility in Michigan. MICHAuto has consistently encouraged its membership to do their part by taking the “Keep Businesses Open – #MaskUpMichigan” pledge.

That commitment to safety is necessary for all businesses, and we’re proud to see the automotive industry leading the way. PPE and safety protocols are something we take seriously as a company. So seriously, CEO Mary Buchzeiger has taken on a new venture, Sure Solutions PPE, to apply her supply chain expertise to make essential, high-quality PPE affordable and accessible to other businesses.

The rise in case numbers can largely be attributed to social gatherings where people aren’t following mask or social distancing guidelines. Knowing this, the automotive industry recognizes we can do more to encourage our employees to follow health protocols even when they’re not on the job.

It’s clear that Michigan automotive facilities aren’t what’s causing these increases and shutting down these facilities would only result in detrimental impacts to Michigan’s economy.

Alongside MICHAuto, we encourage Gov. Whitmer to see how seriously our industry has taken preventing the spread of COVID-19. Seeing our successful safety measures and knowing the importance of the automotive supply chain to Michigan’s economy should urge the governor to resist closure of our facilities.


Lucerne International

David Okonoski recently joined the Lucerne International team this past summer and has firmly grasped on to the core values put in place by Mary Buchzeiger, President and CEO, and the executive and production team.

David believes that core values provide consistency and security and says, “when we find ourselves in situations that are urgent, we must quickly process complex information and make decisions. In addition to acting as a compass to help guide us, our core values are the rock on which to hammer out potential solutions.”

The team at Lucerne asks themselves the following questions when they think they’ve approached the right answer:

  • Passionate about our Purpose – Does the answer align with and further us towards our purpose?
  • Driven to be the Best – How does the answer set us apart? Could others do more than we have?
  • Dynamic is our Destination – Have we looked at the problem from all angles to arrive at the best answer?
  • Respond Swiftly and Positively – Did we beat the clock? Can we take pride in the answer we’ve provided?

Lucerne empowers the team to bring their best every day and strives to create an environment where the core values of Passionate, Driven, Dynamic and Respond can thrive.


Lucerne International Partners With Detroit Cristo Rey High School for Corporate Work Study Program

Lucerne International

Earlier this month, Lucerne International welcomed four Cristo Rey High School students in grades 9 through 12 as part of the school’s Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP). This program provides students with real world job experience, which allows them to supplement their tuition expenses. The program runs through the duration of the school year, giving the students a chance to build their professional portfolios.

The selected students participating in the program are Sierra (12th grade), Crystal (11th grade), Jennyfer (10th grade) and Deniqua (9th grade). Each student dedicates one day (a total of 8 hours) each week, rotating every Friday, to perform a variety of duties and learn new skills to be successful in the workplace.

Jennifer Nitz, VP of Strategic Development at Lucerne, works closely with the students and provides an environment for mentorship and exploration. Jennifer says, “We are thrilled to be part of a program where we can help create excitement and awareness in this present day of manufacturing. To be able to cultivate and train the next generation of our skilled workforce is a priority for Lucerne.”

The Lucerne family is thrilled to be a part of the students’ journey and look forward to equipping the students for personal and professional success.

Lucerne International 2018 Internship Program

Lucerne International










The Lucerne International internship program aims to inspire young minds who are interested in and passionate about the manufacturing industry. This summer,  Lucerne had the pleasure of hosting two outstanding interns from University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Throughout the summer, our interns were responsible for measuring and reviewing parts, sorting through data and rewriting instructions for fixtures, training the operators on how to use the fixtures and more.

The hard-working Engineering Interns, Jared and Cryserica, worked toward their dreams and grew as young professionals right before our very own eyes! We had a chance to talk to Jared about his experience at the growing company this summer. Check out his responses below!

How long have you interned at Lucerne? 

I have been interning at Lucerne International for 3 months.

How would you describe your time at Lucerne?

My time at Lucerne has been nothing less than great! Through hands-on learning I was able to gain experience in manufacturing coupled with exploring the design of different assemblies to the automotive industry.

What was the best part of your internship? 

The best part of the internship was the interaction, the communication  and working in a team environment.

What did you learn throughout your time in the Lucerne internship program? 

Throughout the internship I learned that networking and being able to understand and communicate with others are important for any field and vital skills to help further any career.

What is one fun fact about yourself?

A fun fact about myself is that I love sports.

Why did you choose to go into the field of manufacturing?
I chose manufacturing because of the hands-on, project management and technical expertise that is required. I love being able to see what it is that I’m helping build come to life.

How do you think Lucerne helped you grow as a professional?

Lucerne has impacted me not only as a professional, by giving me the opportunity to further apply my skills, but it helped me grow as an individual within my own experiences. I have gained confidence in what I can do and contribute to the organization as a whole.

What advice would you give to those starting out as interns as to how they can succeed in their role? 

My one advice that I would give is that you make your internship meaningful. It’s up to you to make it impactful. But don’t forget to enjoy all of the experiences along the way!

Employee Spotlight – Hari Menon

Lucerne International

For this month’s employee spotlight, we’re excited to feature our new Quality Manager, Hari Menon! Hari brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with over 23 years with General Motors and as a former consultant with OM Group, LLC. Hari is responsible for the development of Operational Quality Systems, implementation of  International Automotive Task Force, Advanced Product Quality Planning and directing the quality assurance program.

His day-to-day responsibilities include working closely with suppliers to ensure they’re able to respond to customer issues in a timely manner, developing reporting techniques for data collected internally to management and to the production floor, developing and implementing quality assurance methodologies and processes along with ensuring process capability for future programs.

 A fun fact about Hari: He is the author of the book TQM in New Product Manufacturing. The book discusses how manufacturers can successfully and efficiently adjust to technological changes and touches on how both engineers and managers can systematize the adjustment process by using techniques to reduce variation, and thereby reduce cost. A great read written by a great mind!

In his spare time, Hari enjoys sharing his expertise with aspiring minds as an operations management professor at Oakland University. He is an amateur marathon runner and has participated in the Rochester Hills half marathon – “Brooksie Way” – for the past three years with plans to race again this year. He also has a love for the outdoors, spending his most recent hiking expedition climbing to the last two miles of Mount Evans with his daughter.

Overall, we’re thrilled to have Hari on our team and look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in the years to come.

1 2 3