Harry Leaver - Central Michigan Manufacturers Association - 2018 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year (Large Tier)

Sometimes a person is meant to walk a certain path in life — there’s something they are meant to do. During his impressive career through manufacturing, Harry Leaver has built a legacy in the industry and along the way achieved the American dream while inspiring an entire generation to reach for their own dreams.

Yet, even now when presented with the MFG Lifetime Achievement Award, Harry’s sights are firmly set on the future.

“I tried to retire once already and after a few days I was right back into it — it’s so easy to fall in love with manufacturing,” Leaver confesses. “I’m passionate about what manufacturers do; it’s the lifeblood of our economy.”

As the Executive Director for the Central Michigan Manufacturers Association (CMMA) with experience dating back half a century and across both manufacturing companies and industry supporters, Harry has leveraged his professional experience to help manufacturers, partners and the next generation workforce combat a variety of current and emerging industry challenges.

“He’s achieved everything from the shop floor to the executive suite to the nonprofit sector and he’s done it all for manufacturing,” says Jeremy Bockelman, the 2018 MFG Emerging Leader and one of the countless next generation leaders who have benefitted from Leaver’s willingness to mentor and share. “There’s no stopping Harry Leaver and that’s a really good thing for all of us.”

During a career across Michigan, Harry’s legacy is one which includes saving multiple companies from the brink, reimagining strategies for customer service, implementing lean methods before it was a common practice and showing how sharing strategies can strengthen all companies rather than weaken any one.

“Harry came to us in 1995 at a time when the company was trying to transition from a small family-run operation to an organization able to compete in the global automotive market,” offers Brian Kennedy, general manager for Ingersoll CM Systems. “To this day, I still draw upon Harry’s deep knowledge and passion for manufacturing. I consider him a key mentor and a person whose guidance was instrumental in the growth experienced by myself and everyone who is privileged to work with him.”

His current role at CMMA provides Harry the chance to impart his knowledge on not one business, but rather on an entire industry still struggling to overcome its past.

“The state of manufacturing in Michigan is strong, but we’re still constrained by the search for new talent,” explains Leaver. “We need to help today’s students rediscover a love for creating, for working with their hands and we need to accept not everyone is destined for college, but every person should be destined for a career of value, a career that matters.”

Harry is a strong supporter of apprenticeships and internships, working regularly with the Clare, Gladwin and Gratiot-Isabella RESD and local colleges. Attend any career fair in the area and you’ll likely find him continuing the efforts which made him one of the leading proponents of employer-driven talent solutions like the MMA & SME Education Foundation’s PRIME® initiative.

For those who know him well, Harry’s outgoing and contagious personality is the ultimate key to his success.

“I see Harry’s persistence; it comes with a purpose and his intentions are true. He’s one of those rare people not in it for himself — it’s all about helping other people,” says Bockelman. “The number one thing I’d point to that I admire most is how he’s a bridge builder; everything comes down to connecting this person with that person, this business with that school, this job seeker with this job provider.”

When asked what he is most proud of over his career, Leaver responds that “it’s the ‘aha’ moments I still have every time I walk into a facility. I’ve been in this industry for 52 years and, in all that time, it can be easy to think you have all the answers, but there’s always something new to learn and you can usually learn it by looking to your peers.”

CMMA’s best practices tours are an annual hit with local leaders. Providing opportunities to share ideas and see what others in the industry accomplish, Harry is providing others with the chance for their own “aha” moments.

“Manufacturing has provided me with so much — great experiences, great memories, great friends — and recognition for lifetime achievement does lead me to think back and wonder what I’d like my legacy to be,” Leaver says. “It’s a difficult question, but it comes down to making a positive contribution to someone else’s success. If I can look back and see something I’ve done has helped start someone else’s legacy — well, then I’ve had a heck of a career.”