1953 College of Commerce graduate reflects on successful career in automotive industry
Prior to being the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, WVU’s business College was known as the College of Commerce. And business students, such as alumnus Joseph Fumich, set a high precedence for prosperity and success.
A Pursglove, West Virginia, native and Grand Blanc, Michigan, resident, Fumich graduated from the College of Commerce in 1953 with an undergraduate degree in industrial management.
“I had some fine professors at the university, and I still remember a few of them. One was Dr. Isaac, and he taught industrial management, production control and personnel management,” he said. “I also had a speaking course or two, and all of these courses were helpful to my success.”
And when it came time to graduate in 1953, Fumich said he felt ready to begin his career, but the federal government had other plans for him.
“When I graduated, I felt I was a well-rounded man ready to take on the world. But at that time, Uncle Sam was waiting for me and I got drafted. I graduated in June of ’53, and in fall of ’53 I was drafted in the Army. I was federally discharged in 1955, and I came back to work on my master’s degree in finance,” he stated.
His life plans were sidetracked once more while working toward his master’s degree.
“Well, I was sitting in class during that semester and I was requested to come down to the personnel center because somebody wanted to talk to me. So I did. I missed class, and here it was Ford Motor Company had a representative there interviewing various candidates. In the interview, I was offered a trip down to Cincinnati, Ohio, under their college training program in industrial management,” he said. “So I left and I went with Ford. I dropped out of grad school and I worked at their Cincinnati automatic transmission plant.”
While courting his now wife, Sally Ann, who then lived in Cleveland, he began looking for a job in the Rock and Roll Capitol of the World.
“That’s when I interviewed with General Motors. At that time General Motors had a big contract with the United States Navy building personnel carriers,” he said. “They offered me a salary I couldn’t refuse, and away I went.”
Eventually the company lost the contract and Fumich decided to pick up his family and transfer to the Detroit location.
“They indicated it would be in accounts receivable, and I indicated that I didn’t want to be any part of that. It had to be in cost estimating, which dealt with production and cost,” he said. “They indicated at that time that the competition in Detroit would be very difficult because you had all the University of Michigan, Michigan State graduates – that I would be up against some fierce competition. I said, ‘I’m not worried about that. I got my old West Virginia roots. I’m not worried one bit.’ And I wasn’t.”
With those West Virginia roots and his business savviness, his career continued to grow with General Motors in Detroit. He was in the cost estimating department for four years, and from there he maintained momentum growing in the company.
Eventually, he was named director of transportation for General Motors. His department was responsible for keeping the production lines fully stocked with parts as the cars came down the assembly line.
“This was a critical operation because when we have almost 1,000 people on the assembly line, and that line stops because they run out of parts, all red lights show for quick action,” he said. “Now, my responsibility was to make sure that didn’t happen. We had close to 200 truck carriers bringing in these parts from all over the United States. Regardless of whether you had blizzards or rainstorms, the line had to have parts.”
The automotive industry required strong work ethic and discipline, which clearly Fumich had and said he learned from his parents, working summer jobs and his education at WVU.
“One summer, I worked in the coalmine in Pursglove No. 5 for Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company. The money was good, but it was scary,” he said. “Both of my parents were immigrants from Europe. My father was a coalminer, and he passed away from black lung. He was firm believer in education. He didn’t want any of his sons working permanently in the coal mines. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. She had a big job raising seven kids.”
Now, as a retiree of GM, Fumich reflects fondly on his work life and his time at WVU and with the College of Commerce, as he enjoys his retirement and winters in Mexico. He and Sally Ann had four children – three of which graduated from WVU.
Approximately two years ago, the Fumich family made their way back to Morgantown for a homecoming football weekend, which he described as a memorable event.
“I was one the first ones in the College of Commerce. We went to the football game and my name was up on the board as a graduate,” he said. “We were in the homecoming parade. We sat in the back of old pickup truck, which was a 1953 Chevy. It was very memorable.”