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Monday, April 24, 2006

Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News

Paul Palmeri Jr., who took a buyout from Visteon/Ford almost two years ago, after nearly three decades with the company, is now a top salesman at Victory Nissan in Macomb Township.

career makeover

Factory worker finds life after Ford

Readjusting lifestyle, buyout help Macomb Twp. man in new career as Nissan salesman.

Brian J. O'Connor / The Detroit News


How'd you do it?

Did you switch from engineering to sales? Escape the boss from hell? Use your severance pay as seed money for a business? The Detroit News wants to hear from readers who've successfully remade their jobs, professions and careers. To tell your story, e-mail Personal Finance Editor Brian O'Connor at

Career tip sheet

"Paul Palmeri's story should be an inspiration for others who are considering taking the buyouts being offered to workers in this area," says career coach Prudence Cole of Grosse Pointe, who runs the Web site and is the author of "Finding Power, Passion and Joy Being at Work" (Book Marketing Solutions). "The fear is real, change is hard and yet this can be your opportunity to re-craft your work life into something more fulfilling and joyful."
Get rid of your stories: Your stories are the beliefs you hold about what is or is not possible. You should examine where you might be sabotaging yourself even before you start your search.
Identify your dream job: Start asking yourself some important questions. What is it you always wished you had done? What did you plan to be until life got in the way? What would add more meaning to your life? What skills and talents are you not using? What hobbies do you enjoy, and can they be redirected to a career? What did you learn in your last position that can be utilized in some other career?
Get savvy about the job market: What is the job situation where you live or would like to move? Research the employment opportunities and understand the hiring market. Recognize that employment is different throughout the country and that it continues to shift.

Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News

Paul Palmeri Jr., who took a buyout from Visteon/Ford almost two years ago, after nearly three decades with the company, is now a top salesman at Victory Nissan in Macomb Township. go See full image


Ford Motor Co. is paying Paul Palmeri to sell Nissans.

Palmeri, 47, a second-generation Ford worker, took a buyout package in 2004 after nearly three decades of making seats -- the only job he'd ever known.

Thanks to some major adjustments in his lifestyle -- and a supportive family -- Palmeri used his exit to comfortably move into a new career selling cars instead of building them.

"My friends and my UAW brothers all ask me, 'Do you feel guilty about selling Nissans?' Truly, in my heart I say yes," Palmeri says, before going on to point out all but two Nissan models are made in the United States with 63 percent American-made parts, while Nissan employs close to 80,000 U.S. workers.

"Nissan has given me a job and has given a lot of Americans jobs," Palmeri says. And a good one, too: "I can tell you that within two years, I will make more money than I ever did at Ford."

Where he came from: Palmeri's dad was a skilled tradesman at Ford, repairing the sewing machine his son would later work on. His father helped line up a job for him three weeks after high school graduation. "He told me he got me in the door, and it was my job to figure out how to stay there."

Stay he did, and gladly. "I worked in a very good factory. It provided me a very, very comfortable living."

What changed: Things changed when his shop, the Chesterfield trim plant that became part of the Visteon spin-off, was targeted to be closed.

The last round of buyout packages came just after Palmeri had qualified for the minimum 28 years of service to get a deal. "I opened my package and it said 28.1 years, and that 0.1 changed my life forever," he recalls.

The deal gave him extended paid leave at 85 percent of his straight salary until he qualified for retirement, in exchange for the promise that he'd retire as soon as he was eligible.

The alternative was being reassigned to another plant, farther from his home, where his seniority would mean little. He most likely would be assigned to the production line.

"It would have been like starting all over again," he says.

When he went to sign the papers, "I was physically sick. I'd lost 15 pounds. That was the only job I had in my life, since I was 18 years old. I was angry that Ford and Visteon were taking this away from me," he remembers. "I cried."

Stumbling blocks: Palmeri originally had planned to work up to age 55, which would see his sons through college and give him 37 years of service.

To make the deal work financially, he decided his family needed to downsize their lifestyle.

"I sat down with my wife and my two boys and I said, 'Your life is going to change drastically,' " he says.

Raised with four siblings in an 800-square-foot, one-bathroom Detroit bungalow, Palmeri decided his own family could handle a smaller house, too. He sold their 2,600-square-foot home and used the equity to build a new home half that size in the same school district, with money left over.

The kids were OK because they stayed in the same schools, while his wife agreed to the change as long as the new place had a decent-size kitchen and room for a pool.

"There I was, 46 and out of Ford with no house payment," Palmeri says.

Moment of truth: Palmeri refused to allow his wife and friends to throw him a retirement party, but did take his first year out of Ford to enjoy the new home and spend time with his family. "Then one day my wife said, 'It's time to go back to work.' "

Although he'd dabbled in real estate sales for several years, selling six to 10 homes a year on the side, Palmeri didn't want to go into real estate full time.

He also found resistance from job interviewers. Some were skeptical that a guy with a steady check from Ford would be motivated to work, while others were put off by Palmeri's lack of college. "I tried to get jobs at supplier companies, and they wouldn't even look at me without a college education," he says.

Hoping to land work as a parts driver or porter, he walked into an auto dealer. Instead, he was asked if he had any sales experience. "I said, 'Houses, not cars,' and they said, 'That'll work.' "

Since then, he's moved to the Nissan dealership, which opened two months ago.

So far, the only learning curve has been handling customer rejection.

"If you handle rejection and treat the customer the way you want to be treated, you can do well," he says.

Last month, Palmeri says he sold 14 cars, making him the dealership's top salesman for March.

"If you can sell between 15 and 20 cars a month, you will make a very good living in this dealership," he notes.

"I wanted a career, another place where I can come and work 10 to 15 years, and I truly have found it here."

Words of wisdom: Always living within or even below their means made it easy for the family to adapt, Palmeri notes. The savings on the house payment, gas, utilities and other costs more than made up for the 15 percent drop in salary and loss of overtime pay.

His friends and neighbors who thought he was crazy at the time now tell him it was a smart move he made, Palmeri says.

"Take a chance. I took a chance, but now the chance has paid off for me. There is life after the Big Three."

If there's any doubt, he just got a call from Ford's personnel department. "They called me yesterday and told me to put in my retirement paperwork," he says, laughing. "And I did."

You can reach Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or

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