GAMA Advisory Board

The GAMA Advisory Board provides strategic advice for the growth and structure of GAMA, and is comprised of top business leaders and strategic thinkers from a wide variety of business areas.


Richard E. Birchen, P.E.

 Senior Account Manager, AutoForm Engineering USA, Inc.


As a Senior Account Manager, Mr. Birchen (Rick) is responsible for sheet metal forming simulation software licensing to Automotive, Appliance and Aerospace clients in the US and Canada. He provides market evaluation in identifying new potential customers as well as new applications for existing customers. Rick has over 35 years of engineering experience, 25 of which is in the Automotive Industry. He has held previous positions in engineering management, sales management and project management at TDM, Modern Engineering and Ogihara America involving the manufacture of stamping dies and stampings for both Class A and structural components as well as assemblies.

Rick graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BS in Nuclear Engineering and is a licensed Professional Engineer. He is a member of the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and serves on the board of directors of SME Chapter 38. In his spare time, Rick enjoys college football and basketball and has an avid interest in golf.


 Stuart Countess

Sr. Vice President & Chief Operations Officer, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia


Stuart Countess is the Chief Administrative Officer for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Inc. (KMMG). In this position, Countess is responsible for leading the Human Resources and Administration Division including Team Relations, Public Relations, Safety and Security, Environmental, General Affairs, Legal and Sales.

He previously served as the Vice President of Quality overseeing overall vehicle quality for the Kia Sorento, Kia Optima and Hyundai Santa Fe as well as supplier quality, process quality, customer satisfaction, warranty and ISO/TS certifications for Business Management Systems. Originally, Countess joined KMMG in 2008 as the senior manager for the General Assembly Shop. 

Countess came to KMMG from Mercedes Benz US International in Vance, Ala. where, for more than 13 years, he served in numerous leadership positions within production and quality including being the supplier quality manager, quality manager and assembly manager. In those roles he was responsible for vehicle assembly, supplier quality, overall vehicle quality, process quality, customer satisfaction and warranty.

Before joining Mercedes, Countess was the senior supplier quality engineer for AUTECS, a tier 1 supplier for Nissan and Subaru. Countess led the development of a supplier quality program that included localization of parts within the U.S. And, prior to that, he served as quality engineering administrator for Hughes Georgia in LaGrange, a division of Hughes Aircraft. There he was responsible for quality related activities of the Maverick missile program.

He is a graduate of the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Electrical Engineering and received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from LaGrange College.

Countess and his wife, Dana, live in LaGrange, GA and have four children: Laura (24), Thomas (22), Jac (20) and Anna (16). 



Jobi Ellison

Key Account Manager, RAPA L.P.


 After studying Mechanical Engineering at Tennessee Technological University, Jobi was offered the opportunity to gain experience working for an automotive supplier in a sales capacity. Her passion for the automotive industry was sparked after her first visit to an automotive assembly plant. Since this point, she has experienced over 20 years’ worth of experience in engineering sales varying from automation to paint solvents and chemicals and has visited plants all over the world.

Her current employer, RAPA (Rausch and Pausch Automotive) with its headquarters in the Upper Franconian Selb, and manufacturing in Auburn, Alabama is among the world’s leading developers of hydraulic and pneumatic valve systems for vehicle construction.  From individual valves for torque vectoring (active four-wheel drive), to start/stop accumulators as well as e-suspension valves. RAPA’s products help driving become safer, more dynamic, less expensive and more environmentally friendly. Her responsibilities as Key Account Manager include management  all OEM and Tier One accounts in North America.

After spending many years in the Detroit area, Jobi is happy to be back home in the South. She and her husband, Phillip, live in Sugar Hill, Georgia and have two daughters: Savannah and Sloane.


Hank Evans


Director, Aerospace, Defense, and Advanced Manufacturing
Georgia Department of Economic Development



Hank Evans began his time with the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) in 2016 as a Project Analyst on the Research Team. In this role, he supported all statewide project managers with research requests and RFI assistance, while also performing other market research and analysis for marketing brochures and communities around the state. In 2017, Hank started as a Project Manager on the “LEAF” team, or Logistics, Energy, Agribusiness, and Food Processing. As a Project Manager, Hank assisted companies as they consider Georgia for future growth or expansion. Among other items, this may include site selection, workforce analysis, and incentives requests. In 2020, he transitioned to the Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace, and Defense Team at GDEcD.




 David Eyes

Director of Automotive Solutions, DiCentral


David Eyes has been active in the area of automatic integration of supply chain logistical processes, using EDI/B2B best practice, since 1990.  David has more than 25 years of supply chain management experience, gained across Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), Tier 1 and JIS (Just in Sequence) suppliers. Working closely with the Fiat/Chrysler automotive group, General Motors and Ford, he is one of the authors of Materials Management Operations Guidelines/Logistics Evaluation (MMOG/LE) v4.  David is also a member of the AIAG/ODETTE Global MMOG/LE Technical Committee, where his experience is used to support the development of MMOG/LE v4.

Since 2012, David’s primary focus has been in the promotion of EDI communication and supplier integration global best practice, supporting automotive supply chain management teams to develop world-class business units. His work on MMOG/LE v4 has supported OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers in implementing global best practice throughout the supply chain by leveraging the investments made in IT systems and supporting education and process improvements, without the need for excessive investments.

David Eyes is Director of Automotive Solutions for DiCentral, a leading provider of electronic data interchange (EDI) and eBusiness integration solutions. DiCentral enables organizations to collaborate with their trading partners globally by managing mission-critical information, communications and data transformation within and beyond the enterprise.




 Katie Gaertner
Senior Consultant -  Management Methods, Inc.

Katie Gaertner graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. She began working as a Rehabilitation Engineer with the State of Alabama and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in 2000.  During that time, she provided job accommodations and independent living assessments for individuals with disabilities.
Katie joined her father at Management Methods in 2015.  She works a senior consultant helping companies become the low-cost, high-quality manufacturers in their industry. Katie enjoys meeting and working with new people, experiencing different work environments, and learning unique manufacturing processes as she helps clients implement and improve their quality management systems.
Katie and her husband Jeremy met in high school and have been married for over 20 years.  They have two children, Jake & Savannah, and reside in Madison, Alabama.  In her free time, Katie enjoys spending time with her family camping, boating, and watching football!




Chris Garner

Region Manager - GA, FL, Onin Staffing


Chris currently serves as the Region Manager-GA, FL for Onin Staffing, a division of The Onin Group based in Birmingham, AL. Chris has worked in the staffing industry in Georgia for over 19 years. During his tenure, Chris has met with and partnered with hundreds of companies mostly in the light industrial sector. Prior to his work in staffing, Chris worked in the freight transportation industry in Georgia for over 23 years in both operations and sales. Chris has been an active member with various community organizations including The Evansdale Foundation, Tucker Youth Soccer Association, The Barrow County Chamber, The Gwinnett Chamber and The Cobb County Chamber.





Julio C. Gonzalez

President, RCAL

Julio C. Gonzalez, is an entrepreneur currently on his third career as President of RCAL, a residential construction contractor.

Prior to RCAL Julio served as President and Chief Compliance Officer of Miramar Securities, a full-service securities brokerage firm.  With vast leadership experience, he is responsible for motivating and enhancing productivity of sales teams, as well as maximizing relationships, while leveraging broad industry experience and employing cost containment measures.

He attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is a 12-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps.


benny larocca 34_edited-2.jpg - 38.80 Kb

Benny LaRocca

Chief Financial Officer, Complete Prototype Services, Inc.


Benny LaRocca is currently the Chief financial officer for COMPLETE PROTOTYPE SERVICES, INC. Complete Prototype Services is a prototype company that produces workable prototype and limited production parts and tooling for the automotive, consumer goods, medical and defense industries. Benny is responsible for all organization financial factions and benefits functions related to finance. Leading the organization Financial Accounting Operations includes responsibility for all financial systems, processes and infrastructure, internal accounting controls and both internal and external financial reporting. Prior to joining Complete Prototype Services, Benny was the Chief Financial Officer at MALACE HR for five years and was responsible for all daily financial operations and internal controls for twelve off site offices in North America. He has over 20 years experience in the automotive industry and was also the Managing Director for FEC, INC. an automation manufacturer for ten years and was in charge of all company daily operations in North and South America. Benny is a member of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturing Association and Southern Women's Automotive Association as well, frequently sponsoring meetings and conferences for these two organizations.

Benny is a graduate from Oakland University with a degree in accounting. He is married to Mary
LaRocca and has one son named Anthony that is 15 years old.





                                                          Donald J. Leo, PhD.

                                    Dean, UGA Foundation Professor in Engineering
                                                           College of Engineering
                                                        The University of Georgia


Donald Leo became the first appointed Dean of the University of Georgia College of Engineering on July 1, 2013 and currently holds the UGA Foundation Professorship in Engineering. The UGA College of Engineering is the newest college in the oldest state-chartered university in the nation.  Formed in 2012, the college enrolls over 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students, has 75 faculty members, instructors, and public service professionals, and 40 staff members.  Prior to joining the University of Georgia he was a faculty member and associate dean in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and a vice president for the Virginia Tech National Capital Region.  He also served as a program manager at DARPA in the Defense Sciences Office from 2005-2007.  He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a Member of the American Society for Engineering Education.  He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois – Urbana, Champaign in 1990 and his Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Buffalo in 1992 and 1995, respectively. 




Bruce Piefke

                                                    CEO, High Octane Events LLC


High Octane Events LLC is the producer and owner of several automotive related events including Caffeine & Octane and Caffeine & Exotics. Caffeine & Octane is the largest monthly car show in the USA and Caffeine & Exotics is the largest Exotic car show in the country. Over 10,000 car fans attend the events each month and over 2,000 automotive enthusiasts regularly display their cars at the events. High Octane Events LLC is the producer and owner of Caffeine & Octane - The TV Series which premiered on the Velocity Channel in early 2017 was a hit. High Octane Events signed a three-season deal with NBC Sports and will premiere in prime time in the fall of 2017 on the NBC Sports Channel. The Caffeine & Octane online store sells and ships branded merchandise worldwide. 


Bruce attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He earned a Bachelor's Degree, Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services 1976-1980.                                    




                                                              Heather Seckman

                                Director of Economic Development, Rome Floyd Chamber


Heather Lathbury Seckman Rome Floyd County Development Authority Biography Heather Seckman is currently employed as the Project Manager for the Rome Floyd County Development Authority. She has worked in the field of economic development for Rome and Floyd County, Georgia through the Rome Floyd Chamber for over 18 years.

Ms. Seckman has a Bachelors degree in Business and Communications from Berry College. Ms. Seckman serves on the Board of Directors for the Southern Automotive Conference, the Advisory Board for the Georgia Automotive Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and on the Advisory Board for the Medical College of Georgia Northwest Campus. Ms. Seckman is a former Chairman for the 2019 Business Retention & Expansion Committee for the Georgia Economic Developers Association.

In 2012, Ms. Seckman was recognized for “Deal of the Year” for the location of Lowes Regional Distribution Center and again in 2014 for “Deal of the Year” for Bekaert. Ms. Seckman is a graduate of Leadership Rome through the Rome Floyd Chamber and was recognized by the Rome Chapter of the American Association of University Women.

Ms. Seckman attends Flint Hill Baptist Church and has three children ages 31, 29 and 27 and three grandchildren ages five and four-year old twins.



Terri Seese

Founder and CEO, Alliance Solutions Groups


Terri Seese is the Founder and CEO of Alliance Solutions Group, Inc. which provides software and hardware technology solutions supporting manufacturing and distribution industries in Supply Chain. Prior to pursuing her own entrepreneurial endeavors, Terri acted in various capacities for companies such as Manhattan Associates and Home Depot. Those experiences helped to diversify her knowledge and skill set, creating opportunities for her own individual and community goals.

Continuing her passion as an entrepreneur—creating solutions and connecting people—as well as seeing a need in area schools for industry education, Terri recently created ASG HOPE Foundation. A  501 (c) (3) non-profit supporting K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) activities specific to manufacturing and distribution in the Automotive and Supply Chain industry. Through this program, future generations can expand their knowledge of manufacturing, opening up and developing new opportunities for supply chain innovation.

Terri currently serves on Georgia Automotive Manufacturing Association (GAMA) Advisory Board as well as the ASG HOPE Foundation Board.





Charles Stallworth

Senior Project Manger, Business and Industrial Recruitment Economic Development, Georgia Power


As a Georgia Power project manager, Mr. Stallworth is responsible for facilitating the location, expansion, or start-up of businesses wishing to invest in Georgia. Charles assists companies in identifying potential buildings or sites throughout the state; he also provides market evaluation, construction information, engineering assistance, and serves as a liaison between the businesses and governmental agencies in the site selection process. Charles started his career with Georgia Power in 1986, as a lab technician at one of the company’s power plants. In 1991, he transferred into the environmental affairs department where his responsibilities included regulatory policy implementation and coordinating environmental risk assessments associated with new power plant siting efforts. In January 2002, Charles joined the team of Georgia Power project managers in economic development. Charles graduated from the University of West Florida with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and has earned a masters in business administration from Georgia State University. He is a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers and serves on the boards of the Korea Southeast United States Chamber of Commerce, the Japan-America Society of Georgia, and Savannah State University’s School of Business Advisory Committee. In his free time, he enjoys traveling and golf.



Mike Stonecipher

Senior Project Manager, Georgia Tech - Enterprise Innovation Institute


Mike Stonecipher is a Senior Project Manager for Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. He specializes in strategic planning, leadership development and managing projects that will enable top-line growth and generate bottom-line results for manufacturers throughout Georgia.    

Prior to joining Georgia Tech, Mike served 15 years in the automotive industry with AlliedSignal and Honeywell International, where he held the position of Director of Operations for the Automotive Friction Materials Division. He also worked in the energy and sustainability industry and has served on the Board of Directors for Power Partners, Inc. (formerly a division of ABB). He has international experience leading product and process development, six sigma and lean implementation, factory start-ups, new product launches, and managing operations that serve a global OEM customer base. He was awarded AlliedSignal’s CEO Technology Achievement Award and received a patent for abrasive coating of friction materials.  Mike holds a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from Tennessee Technological University and an M.B.A. from Brenau University. He has completed Lean Enterprise training through the Lean Design Institute at UT Knoxville and Finance for Executives, Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Mike and Therese have been married for 26 years and reside in Athens, Ga. with their four children - Rebecca, Geneva, Nicholas and Hunter.  He enjoys Little League baseball, mission trips and is active with the Red Cross and United Way.  



Craig Sutherland

SE Account Manager, Vintech Industries


Craig is currently working with Vintech Industries, headquartered in Imlay City, Michigan.  Vintech will be launching a plant in Newnan, Georgia this year.  They have global locations in the USA, Mexico, China, and Portugal.  Their automotive products, as a Global Tier 2 supplier, position them to work directly with Tier 1 Suppliers as well as OEM’s.  Their current processes include TPV Profile Extrusions, Plastic Extrusion, Plastic Injection, Roll Forming, and Sub-Assemblies. 

 Craig has over 30 years of experience in the rubber and plastic extrusion industry.  Craig has worked with several large automotive weather strip companies and was involved in several plant startups.  Most recently he was an owner in a non-automotive rubber extrusion company located in Newnan, Georgia.

 Craig and his wife, Angela live in Newnan, Georgia and have two children:  Jack and Katie.  He enjoys golfing, travel, and spending time with family.

Janet Thornton

Territory Manager - Stainless Steel Division, Schmolz & Bickenback USA, INC.


Janet has over 14 years experience in the metals business. She works with manufacturers focused on automotive, medical, valves & fittings, aerospace, power generation and defense. In her current role as Southeast Territory Manager for Schmolz + Bickenbach USA, she has the ability to provide special steel solutions for both domestic and global clients.

Additional experience includes working in the health and wellness sector. Janet’s mission in the health and wellness sector was to help corporate America have healthier more productive employees. She regularly worked with the both the National Business Group on Health, and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses.

Janet is the Founder of Women & Wine on Wednesdays North East Atlanta. This is a professional networking group of over 350 women.

Janet is a graduate of Penn State University with a B.A. in Marketing and Public Relations.

Scott Urton

Vice President of Operations, FC Industries Inc.



Scott Urton is currently Vice President of Operations for FC Industries Inc. and Vice President of AFC Stamping and Production Inc. AFC Stamping is a production company that serves a variety of different industries. Those include the automotive, motorcycle, RV, and furniture industries. Scott joined FC Industries in May of 1986 with a Tool & Die Engineering degree. He quickly rose through the ranks from Designer, Design Manager, Project Manager, to head of multiple divisions. Scott has 30 plus years of manufacturing responsibilities including sales force, budgets, and income statements. He also heads up the Quality Departments and the Maintenance Departments of our 300,000 sq. ft facility.

Scott like all has further his education with courses in Quality, Business finance, and many other classes along the way. He has coached Fastpitch Softball for 27 plus years. Which he has been blessed with the education and the relationships of shaping lives. He is married to Robin and has 3 daughters with 6 grandchildren.


Krysta Weed

Program Manager, Engineering Online & Continuing Education, Auburn University


Krysta is the Program Manager for Auburn University’s Engineering Online and Continuing Education office where she develops and administers new programs for both degree- and non-degree seeking students and assists with marketing-related projects.  Krysta works with industry partners to cultivate and maintain relationships in an effort to ensure Auburn Engineering meets their needs for training, workshops, seminars and content covered in academic curricula.  Her previous positions with automotive OEMs such as Mercedes Benz and Kia Motors, Volkert Engineering and with one of Southern Company’s nuclear power plants have provided her with varied industry experience, as well as a wide array of network contacts. This allows her to see multiple perspectives, which has proved to be advantageous in her current position. 

Krysta also serves on the executive council for 100+ Women Strong, a female engineering alumni organization that supports and mentors females in engineering. 

Krysta earned her B.S. in Marketing and her Master’s in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Auburn University.




Davis Woodruff

President, Management Methods, Inc.


Davis M. Woodruff grew up on a family farm in rural southern Alabama. His family also owned and operated a “country store.” From this background he earned an engineering degree from Auburn University, became a Professional Engineer and Certified Management Consultant. He was a manufacturing executive with 3M for ten years and became the youngest manufacturing superintendent in the company, led the team that produced the first home video films in the U.S., and assisted with a plant start-up in Europe.

As a certified management consultant, professional engineer, published author, and professional speaker, Davis Woodruff brings immediate benefits to businesses. These benefits include developing leaders; optimizing resource utilization; improving processes, quality and customer satisfaction; and saving time and $$$.

Davis formed a management consulting company, Management Methods, in 1984 and has served over 140 clients in 35 states and on 3 continents. Davis is an internationally recognized expert in showing companies how to be the low cost, high quality, environmentally responsible leader in their industry. From Vermont to Malaysia Davis’ clients include BP, GM, TS Tech, MCM, 3M, Tyco and scores of other large and small organizations. He has served numerous automotive industry clients throughout the U.S. where he has guided the development and deployment of ISO/TS Quality Management Systems, ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems, statistical methods, lean principles, problem solving, RCA, and other similar processes.

Having authored over six dozen articles, a full-length book, Taking Care of the Basics: 101 Success Factors for Managers, a 58-minute DVD, two CD programs, two e-books, and seven online professional development courses, Davis is always on the cutting edge of today’s business world. His video, “Focus on Fundamentals—a Manager’s Guide to the Ten Essentials”, aired on Business Vision Network, along with programs by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Tom Peters, and Ken Blanchard. Over fifty of Davis’ articles may be found at

Davis has been married to Lynn since 1970 and they have two daughters, two sons-in-law, two grandchildren and one dog. He is actively involved with his family, in his community and in his church, where he teaches a Bible Study class of adults each week.