Gary L. Cowger

Nov 30, 2007

Group vice president of Global Manufacturing and Labor Relations at General Motors Corp.

Gary L. CowgerGroup vice president of Global Manufacturing and Labor Relations at General Motors Corp.
Honorary Doctor of Engineering

A 1970 graduate of Kettering/GMI, Gary L. Cowger is one of Kettering’s most famous and acclaimed graduates.  His resume features a long list of ever-increasing responsibilities for General Motors, including being named president of General Motors North America, which gave him responsibility for all GM operations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

His career began, however, as a co-op student on a shop floor in his home state of Kansas.  In 1965, he was a co-op student at the Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac assembly plant in his hometown of Kansas City.  He worked his way up through the ranks to become superintendent of the plant, taking a brief break in 1978 to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a GM Sloan Fellow.
In 1979, he moved to Lansing, Michigan, to become general superintendent of the Lansing Car assembly plant.  Not quite two years later, he moved to the St. Louis, Missouri, assembly plant to serve as production manager. In 1982, Mr. Cowger was appointed the first manager of the brand-new Wentzville, Missouri, assembly plant, where he was responsible for every aspect of the new facility – including the building, staffing and start-up of full production. Four years later, he was named complex manager of the Lordstown assembly and stamping facilities in Ohio.

Mr. Cowger was appointed manufacturing manager of GM’s Cadillac division in 1987. During this position, he was instrumental in helping Cadillac win the coveted Malcolm Baldridge Award for quality. He then became executive director of advanced manufacturing engineering; executive in charge of the North American Operations Manufacturing Center; and president and managing director of GM de México.

He was elected a GM vice president in October 1994.  Mr. Cowger was named manufacturing vice president for GM Europe in 1998, and he was placed in charge of the overall coordination of Opel/Vauxhall operations for 14 plants in 10 countries. He was then appointed chairman and managing director of Adam Opel in Germany.  Later that same year, Mr. Cowger became group vice president of labor relations for GM North America and then group vice president of manufacturing and labor relations in 2001.

Mr. Cowger was born in Kansas City, Kansas.  During his college years at Kettering/GMI, he was an active member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.  He earned a bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering in 1970 and a master’s of science degree in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Cowger is a strong advocate of co-op education.  He has been a faithful member of Kettering University’s Board of Trustees since 1999 and is currently the vice chair of the board.  He was inducted into the National Commission for Cooperative Education’s Hall of Fame in 2002. 

He has received a number of other honors and industry awards.  He received the prestigious Wu Manufacturing Leadership Award in 2001 and an honorary doctorate from Lindenwood University in 2002.  In 2004, he was inducted into the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Hall of Fame and was named Automotive Industries’  Executive of the Year.  In 2005, he received the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Manufacturing Leadership Award.  In 2006, Mr. Cowger was named a Fellow of Stanford University, becoming the fifth recipient of this coveted honor in 20 years.   In 2006, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He was recognized by the Academy for his contributions to the GM Global Manufacturing System, which has dramatically improved flexibility, quality and productivity in automotive manufacturing.

He is a board member of Saturn Corporation and OnStar; and has served on the boards of Saab, Adam Opel, GM of Canada, GMAC and New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture between GM and Toyota. 

Along with serving on Kettering’s Board of Trustees, he is a member of the governing board of Leaders for Manufacturing at MIT and the College for Creative Studies. In addition, he serves on the board of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Focus: HOPE and the United Negro College Fund. He also serves as co-chair of the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation's Executive Leadership Cabinet.