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USA: "2013 Dykema Automotive Institute Survey: Industry Challenges" report

USA: "2013 Dykema Automotive Institute Survey: Industry Challenges" report. 14-page report by DYKEMA.

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back to index backAMERItalk July,  2005

Tough times in North America means suppliers crave special executive talent

Delphi wants a turnaround titan. Who's on the short list?

(Since this story was published, Steve Miller was named CEO of Delphi)

The hardship facing most North American suppliers these days has created demand for a different breed of top executive -- and changed Delphi's strategy for replacing J.T. Battenberg.

The crisis in the sector has meant for lots of boardroom activity in recent weeks. For example, David Stockman bowed out as Chairman and CEO of Collins & Aikman, only a few months after assuming the chief executive role.

Like most large U.S. suppliers, Collins & Aikman faced pressure from production cuts at Ford and GM and rising raw materials costs. Stockman resigned a few days before the company sought Chapter 11 protection.

Stockman was once hailed as a supplier visionary. He is a founding partner of Heartland Industrial Partners L.P., the private-equity firm that owns a majority stake in Collins & Aikman.

Three kinds of leaders

An investment banker by trade, Stockman is a value grower, a brilliant, big-picture thinker.

But he is not an operations specialist and is no crisis manager. What North American suppliers need now is something different. Three kinds of leaders are in demand --- operations gurus; managers with experience in key growth markets outside North America and tough-minded turnaround types.

Newly downsized Visteon Corp. has hired ex-Lear executive Donald Stebbins as its President and COO --- hoping to benefit from Stebbins' experience as head of the interior giant's overseas operations.

Stebbins, who was a co-chief operating officer in charge of the Europe, Asia and Africa divisions at Lear, appeared to come in second in the race to replace Bob Rossiter as Lear's CEO. Doug Del Grosso seems to have the top job all but wrapped up.

The prototypical operations guy is Frank Macher, the 64-year-old manufacturing specialist who was brought back by Ford to run Visteon cast-offs placed in the new holding company. Macher headed Ford's component operations before they were spun off and later had stints running Federal Mogul and ITT Automotive,

'Steve Miller' band

Now Delphi's board of directors has changed direction as it seeks a successor for Battenberg, who is set to retire later this year. Delphi is no longer scouting for an all-arounder. It is seeking a pure turnaround expert, a Mr. Fix-it along the lines of Steve Miller, the former Chrysler finance whiz who has made a career of being a turnaround hired gun.

Delphi President Rodney O'Neal is still in the running, but headhunting firm Egon Zehnder International, is now looking for someone who answers to the description of Miller -- perhaps Miller himself.

Another name heard around Detroit is Fritz Henderson, the highly-touted, fast-tracking head of General Motors Europe, who also has excellent Asian credentials.

Some analysts hint at the possibility of bringing in former General Motors China head Phil Murtaugh, who departed GM a few months ago.


Murtaugh built a stellar reputation and as one of the handiest of China hands -- high value experience for any company trying to make inroads in the country.

He is one of the hottest commodities in the auto business.

Former Delphi senior executive Jose Maria Alapont earlier this year moved into the CEO job at Federal Mogul --- after running Iveco for a year and a half. Alapont himself may be on the Delphi short-list. His European experience, having once led Delphi's business there, would be helpful.

Other names bandied about: Ford purchasing boss Tony Brown, who came from the supplier side and GM global product planning boss John Smith.

Magna International was the scene of a shake-up recently. Intier boss Don Walker was named co-CEO with European ace Siegfried Wolf after the interiors spin-off was folded back into the parent company. That left Magna president and ex-GM executive Mark Hogan in the lurch. Some say Hogan's disappointment could prompt him shift to Delphi if the call comes.

The executives in demand are proven turnaround or liquidation experts, the likes of Heartland's David Treadwell. Indeed, Treadwell may himself be a Delphi candidate after reconfiguring Oxford Automotive as a European company.

Oxford is emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, after working to shed its plants in the United States. Treadwell, CEO of Oxford since August of 2004, got high marks for his efforts.

It is an unusual list of names being gossiped about in connection with the Delphi job -- for example, Jay Alix, the Southfield, Michigan-based turnaround entrepreneur.

One astonishing name has been tossed around: Patrick Pelata, the Renault-Nissan product development mastermind who aided Carlos Ghosn's turnaround miracle in Tokyo. The Ghosn aura is so strong that is has begun to spread to his top lieutenants.

Indeed, it is a different kind of executive crop than would have been discussed a year ago as Battenberg replacements. But then it is a very different industry, too.

Source: SupplierBusiness - GAI

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