One of my early supervisors and mentors frequently told me that surrounding yourself with incredibly talented, diverse people is a key to success. In his words, "it's not necessarily what you know, but who you know - and what they know and can teach you - that counts."

Over the past two years, in my role as editor of Reliable Plant magazine, I've surrounded myself with nearly 200 manufacturing professionals. They are the members of my editorial advisory board and my at-large industrial focus group. This incredibly talented, diverse collection of people formally reviews the magazine, its content and its direction. In phone calls, e-mails, faxes and face-to-face meetings, they provide a frank and honest assessment of what we're doing right and what we need to improve upon. I am deeply indebted to each of them for their contributions.

Throughout most of 2006, Nate Gooden was a regular focus group resource for me and Reliable Plant, and someone I was proud to call a teacher and friend. A 42-year member of the United Auto Workers, he was the union's executive vice president in charge of negotiations with DaimlerChrysler and served as the UAW representative on DaimlerChrysler's supervisory board. He held those posts until he retired in June.

I had several opportunities to chat with Gooden last year and, as a result, came away a wiser man. On the morning of Tuesday, November 7, I called to offer him the opportunity to present a keynote address at our 2007 "Lean, Reliable and Lubed" international conference in Louisville, Ky. However, I was saddened to find out that Gooden had died the night before. He was 68 years old.

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Nate Gooden spoke to Belvidere, Ill. plant workers on February 1, 2006.

My favorite memory of Nate Gooden comes from the first time I met him.

Chrysler held a special event February 1, 2006, at its plant in Belvidere, Ill., to unveil the company's "Smart Manufacturing" production system and a new car model, the Dodge Caliber. Senior leaders from DaimlerChrysler, the plant, the UAW and Illinois government made speeches that day and were available for interviews. The guy I found the most interesting was Gooden.

I expected boilerplate material from the UAW and a hint of resistance to the new production system, which features unprecedented workforce flexibility (job rotation, fewer restrictions on job classifications and a structure based on work teams). During his speech, though, Gooden fired up plant workers with his support of the moves.

"Changes are coming," he said. "We have to embrace change. We can't live in the past anymore. DaimlerChrysler is doing things differently to stay competitive. . . . It's something we should have done a long time ago."

He then laid forth a vision where Chrysler became the standard-bearer for growth, innovation, job creation and lean practices.

"I'm tired of chasing damn Toyota," he said. "Let Toyota start chasing us."

Over the past 12 months, Chrysler has made very good progress toward that goal.

Nate Gooden will be missed by the UAW, Chrysler and by us here at Reliable Plant.