Hayes Lemmerz Case Study

Topgrading Lifts a Major Company Out of Bankruptcy

No. of Employees: Over 6,000 globally
Industry: Automotive OEM Suppliers


  • A Player new hires improved to 74%, A Player promotions improved to 85%
  • Losses of $211 million in 2001 were replaced by break-even in 2002 and earnings from operations of $62 million in 2003.
  • EBITDA improved from $157M in 2008 to $193.3M in 2011

The Company

When Hayes Lemmerz International filed for bankruptcy in 2001, the board brought in Curt Clawson to bring the company back to profitability. He did so by implementing Lean Manufacturing (for systems and profit improvements) and Topgrading (for a major infusion of top talent).

Like most automotive suppliers, Hayes Lemmerz was slammed in the recession of 2008. Retaining the methods Clawson implemented, the company turned around again and was acquired in 2012 by Iochpe Group, parent of Maxion Wheels. Clawson retired, and long-term Hayes Lemmerz executive Fred Bentley became President and CEO of Maxion Wheels.


HR Does the Heavy Lifting
Tim Welcer, Vice President Human Resources, participated in the Topgrading Train-the-Trainer program and, with the support of Chris Mursau, conducted a number of Topgrading Workshops. Welcer went on to conduct well-received Topgrading Workshops all over the world, training managers all the way down through those reporting to plant managers.

The organization's HR department has taken the primary Topgrading materials and translated them into local language formats for many countries where they conduct business. Managers are aware that the CEO, President/COO, and/or Business Unit executives will request to review Topgrading reports during visits to audit the process as well as use the reports to learn about the new hires before meeting them.

As they travel and as time permits, Welcer and others often participate in local-country interviews as observers to calibrate the effectiveness of those team members conducting the Tandem Topgrading Interviews.

"The company emerged from Chapter 11 one of the strongest automotive suppliers, and Topgrading contributed to that success. We can't win if we miss on people."

- Curt Clawson, CEO

How A/B/C Player Ratings Are Made
Hayes Lemmerz senior management team conducts an annual two-day Management Resource Review (MRR). Participation consists of the CEO, COO/president, the senior leadership team, Business Unit executives, and top Human Resources staff.

"Hayes Lemmerz (now Maxion Wheels) competes in one of the toughest markets in the world; the global automotive OEM supply industry. In this tough industry with demanding customers, powerful suppliers, and relentless competition from low-cost countries, we have to have the best people to be successful. Topgrading methods infused the company, top to bottom, with the top talent that enabled us to succeed."

- Curt Clawson, CEO

The Results

  • The top ten executives became a team of 100% A Players
  • Of the top 77 managers, from plant manager to CEO, Topgrading improved percent A Players from 38% to 89%
  • A Player new hires improved to 74%, A Player promotions improved to 85%
  • Losses of $211 million in 2001 were replaced by break-even in 2002 and earnings from operations of $62 million in 2003.
  • EBITDA improved from $157M in 2008 to $193.3M in 2011

Advice to Future Topgraders

  • Don't hesitate to Topgrade locations that are not struggling, so your A Players can be even more successful. - Clawson
  • Be honest. We were faced with plant closings, and by telling people the truth it showed them the respect they deserved, and they performed extremely well, even when plants were to be closed. - Clawson
  • Topgrading empowers A Players to make decisions. Fred, Tim, and I all travel and reinforce Topgrading while meeting employees, coaching and reviewing management, and meeting customers. - Clawson
  • Expect to be tested every day, from every corner of the earth. There are always credible reasons to let a chronic low performer have third and fourth chances, but any company, even a global one, will quickly understand if B performance is permitted. - Bentley
  • Don’t cut corners. There have been times, and even I’ve been guilty, that a supposedly well-known person has been given a promotion, only to fail. Do the tandem Topgrading Interviews and oral 360 interviews with co-workers and you’ll avoid costly mistakes. - Bentley
  • If you’re in HR, insist on being involved in the tandem Topgrading Interview for key hires. You can become more experienced than all other leaders in the company. Don’t shirk this responsibility and you can make a big contribution to success of the company. Also, be there to coach your managers during their initial tandem Topgrading Interviews to make certain they utilize the skills and training and are calibrated to the process! - Welcer
  • Push back on your bosses if you see them making a talent mistake. HR generally has the reputation for going along with whatever the C-suite executives want, and not fighting for what you professionally know is right. - Welcer

Talk to an advisor to see how Topgrading can help your organization.

Improve your hiring success with Topgrading. The Topgrading methodology will transform your hiring process by increasing the number of A player hires and decreasing the number of mis-hires. Our leadership and candidate assessment tools will help you assess, hire, retain, and grow high performing teams. Contact us to learn more about the Topgrading approach to hiring and start achieving better hiring results now!

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