Fred Hoffman, former Chrysler executive and his husband, Jim Stokes, married on Nov. 29, 2015 after 32 years together. The couple resides in Dearborn. The Fiat Chrysler Automobile Group had the 2016 Fiat 500X speciallywrapped for the Motor City Pride in June 2016. BTL photo: Andrew Potter

Former Chrysler Executive Talks Workplace Inclusivity

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Increasingly, LGBT people are making themselves more visible in every profession. Even in the auto industry, a historically more "macho" environment where Fred Hoffman wasn't sure he would fit in at first.

As an openly gay man, Hoffman said, "I really didn't know if there would be an issue." And while he wasn't waving rainbow flags when he was recruited by Chrysler in 1988, he was told being gay wasn't a problem.

"I wanted to ask the question because I didn't want to put myself in harm's way. I was pleasantly surprised the answer was absolutely affirming," he said.

Hoffman never hid his sexuality in the variety of positions he has maintained in the last 50 years, but said he never had a need to make a declarative statement either.

From 1967-77, he worked as a columnist and editor for the Dearborn Guide Newspapers and the Times Herald Publications. While serving as deputy mayor in Dearborn, Hoffman held the position of executive director of the Dearborn Economic Development Corporation in the early 1980s.

He later became director of the Auto & Steel Division of the state's Commerce Department under former Gov. James Blanchard where he helped open the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in 1991. The factory located on East Jefferson Avenue was a major commitment to the downtown Detroit area by Chrysler.

"It's extremely important for our own mental health to be open in the workplace as well as in other settings of our lives," Hoffman said.

"I always felt that companies like Chrysler should have employees that look like their customer base in order to successfully sell vehicles."

In 2008, when he was deciding to retire, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked Hoffman to be her advisor on auto restructuring and economic development until the end of her term in 2010.

Granholm told the Free Press, "The auto rebound would not have happened in the successful way that it has without Fred Hoffman. He played a multipronged role in saving the auto industry, and in making sure the landing for real people was not a harsh landing, although it was a very, very difficult time, obviously."

She also said, "He didn't need to get credit. He just wanted to make sure that people were served and these jobs were saved."

Hoffman was asked how he feels about the company he served for two decades.

"I love Chrysler. I loved my years there, but I'm also happy I did what I did. I will cheer on the sidelines for Chrysler. I can never really go back. It's not the same type of organization it was when I was there, and I'm happy with what I'm doing now," he said, adding: "The good news is that it's surviving. It came very close to becoming a footnote in history. I'm so pleased parties came together to rescue the company. The day I left Chrysler in Auburn Hills, 5,000 of us walked out at the same time."

Hoffman notes that he received a buyout package like everybody else in the company and it made sense to take it, but he continued working for a month afterward.

"I didn't have everything cleaned up. There was stuff to do and things I needed to resolve before I felt comfortable leaving."

When given the opportunity to reflect upon his many successes, Hoffman and his husband, Jim Stokes, laugh about the fact that he has "totally failed retirement."

The couple, together for 32 years, married on Nov. 29 last year and reside in Dearborn where Hoffman has lived most of his life.

He continues to juggle a large number of boards, committees and other roles. He serves as Of Counsel to the firm's Government and Public Affairs Group at Clark Hill in Detroit. He is affiliated with University of Michigan-Dearborn, which he serves as director of Strategic University Relationships. He also serves as vice chairman of the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority, by appointment of the Governor; as Secretary-Treasurer of the Wayne County Building Authority, by appointment of the County Executive, and since 2002, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany for the state of Michigan.

"Jim is continually trying to get me to slow down," he said, especially since Hoffman was diagnosed with cancer in September 2015. He finished chemo treatments a few months ago and is now stabilized.

To support aspiring young LGBT people, Hoffman and his husband have funded scholarships for LGBT students at UM-Dearborn, Henry Ford College and Michigan State University Law School. They also support the Wayne State University Junior Year in Munich program.

"We are delighted to spend time with recipients encouraging them in public policy," he said.

Hoffman's efforts have not gone unnoticed. He is the August 2016 recipient of the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award, one of the Shining Light Awards sponsored by the Detroit Free Press and Metropolitan Affairs Coalition. The awards, named for former Free Press Publisher Neal Shine, recognize those in Metro Detroit who work to make the region a more livable place for everyone and give voice to the vulnerable.

Fiat Chrysler's Commitment to LGBT Community

While the company's LGBT employee resource group, Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA), formed late in Hoffman's time at Chrysler, he is "particularly pleased" that there is an LGBT organization in place for others to benefit from.

Chrysler was a leader among U.S. employers in providing domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2000. In 2013, Chrysler was among a small group of leading employers to achieve a perfect score of 100 percent on Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index.

In 2000, along with GM and Ford, Chrysler began offering same-sex partner benefits to its employees. Eight years later, the company began covering medically necessary care for its transgender employees.

Since the Fiat Chrysler merger in January 2014, the company continues to support GALA initiatives such as Motor City Pride in Hart Plaza. The FCA Group hosted a 5K run/walk in 2015 to benefit Affirmations in Ferndale and the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park. Timing with National Coming Out Day, the company also displays an LGBT flag outside its headquarters entrance, and in the past, has celebrated with a rainbow car display inside Tech Plaza.

In addition, the Faces of GALA exhibit runs in June each year and is comprised of 15-20 poster boards, with information about different GALA members and allies.

"This is a unique way of expressing that we have a welcoming culture. GALA members can show their face and their pride about who they are and what they support, right here," said Greg Hawkins, Mopar Marketing Manager, FCA US LLC.

He said, "It's great to know iconic figures within the LGBT community, but what about inside our building? Who do I aspire to be as an LGBT employee? We look and find ourselves."

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