DETROIT — Dan Knott, who as Chrysler Group purchasing boss restored the automaker's reputation with suppliers, died April 29, just over two weeks after taking medical retirement. He was 51.
Knott had been battling cancer. He “passed away in his sleep peacefully and surrounded by his family” about 2:15 a.m., Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri said.
Knott left the automaker in a retirement announced on April 13.
Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, in a statement, said the Chrysler family is “profoundly saddened today.”
“Dan Knott was an inspirational leader, who cared deeply about the company and, most of all, his people,” Marchionne said. “His passion for products shone through, and I will always remember how his child-like smile lit up the room when talked about vehicles like the Viper or our Jeep brand.
“He made a huge contribution to Chrysler by improving our relations with suppliers with an approach based on honesty, transparency and accountability. Dan will be missed on a professional basis, and even more on a personal level. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Knott became Chrysler's senior vice president for purchasing and supplier quality in December 2009. Though he was head of purchasing for fewer than three years, the affable and straight-talking Knott left an indelible impression on those with whom he interacted.
He was replaced earlier this month by Scott Kunselman, 48, who has been with the automaker since 1985, most recently as head of engineering.
Standing room only
Neil De Koker, CEO of the Original Equipment Supplier Association, said Knott was respected among suppliers, who crowded into a standing-room-only town hall meeting just last month to hear him speak.
“He's always been totally ethical, totally right in terms of being committed to doing the right thing,” De Koker said when Chrysler announced Knott's retirement.
In 2011, Knott was recognized as an Automotive News All-Star for purchasing and was credited with reviving Chrysler's partnership approach with suppliers after the company emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2009.
For example, Knott stopped the practice of abruptly changing suppliers to save trivial amounts of money on a parts contract. He also used videos to train his staff to stop passing the buck, paid suppliers promptly and met regularly with supplier executives.
Before he retired, Knott had altered the way Chrysler scored its relationship with Tier 1 suppliers in a bold plan to boost business opportunities for suppliers owned by women and minority groups.
At Knott's direction, Chrysler now acts on its annual reviews of the amount of business its Tier 1 suppliers do with firms owned by women and minorities. If the Tier 1's efforts in the area are minimal, the Tier 1 supplier could lose as much as 20 percent of its overall purchasing score, potentially jeopardizing future contracts.
Knott joined Chrysler in 1988, five years after receiving his engineering degree from Michigan State University, where he earned a master's of business administration in 2002.
Rising through the ranks
During his rise through Chrysler's corporate ranks, Knott had overseen a number of vehicle development programs and the automaker's Street and Racing Technology group, which Chrysler now treats as a separate brand.
He was also instrumental in Chrysler's sustainability efforts. He previously had worked for American Motors Corp. and Bendix Electronics.
Knott was active in several organizations, and was the current chairman of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. He was also a board member of Focus Hope and New Horizons Rehabilitation Services Inc., a not-for-profit rehabilitation agency that provides vocational training and job placement services for people with disabilities.
Knott is survived by his wife, Cindy; a son, Casey; and a daughter, Laura.
Information on services wasn't immediately available.