Auburn Hills, Michigan – While Larry Williams doesn't hold the CEO title, he's definitely the official in charge at Henniges Automotive Holdings Inc.
Williams was named president and chief financial officer in April, making him the top guy at the automotive sealing supplier a little more than three months after he replaced outgoing CEO Doug DelGrosso. Williams had held the interim CEO tag from 1 Jan until his permanent appointment was made.
The executive has been with Henniges for the last 15 years, most recently as CFO. He began his career in 1988 with Federal-Mogul, and there he gained experience in a number of different regions – Germany, Indiana, Arkansas and California before finally returning home to Michigan.
Williams also served as interim CEO from November 2011 until DelGrosso's appointment in 2012. When he began working with DelGrosso, he said his experience was mainly rooted in finance, turnaround situations, and restructuring or operationally improving the business. He credits DelGrosso for helping him expand his role.
“He knew ultimately my goal was to become a CEO someday,” Williams said. “He knew I had been doing the role for the last 10 months and expanded my traditional finance role within Henniges. I picked up purchasing; I picked up IT as well, allowing me to be involved in virtually all aspects of the business that he was involved in. I sat in all of his meetings, went to customers with him, so he was mentoring and preparing me to take over the role.
“I really hadn't in my career had the opportunity to have meetings with customers outside of going in a financial role and assuring the customer that we were a financially healthy company. I really wasn't in more of a commercial discussion with customers, and Doug helped me bridge that gap.”
More global approach
Historically, Henniges has been a regional company, but Williams hopes to continue moulding it into a global player. One thing that will help is a new owner, Aviation Industry Corp. of China, purchased the Auburn Hills-based firm in September 2015. With that transaction complete, the company's next goals are to adjust its objectives to align with being owned by a more strategic parent as opposed to a private equity firm.
Henniges provides automotive original equipment manufacturers with sealing systems. It also supplies the automotive market with anti-vibration products and other rubber components.
Williams said AVIC's goal is to grow the company primarily in China at a much more rapid pace than the firm has grown previously. He added that sealing accounts for about 90 percent of Henniges' business, with the remaining 10 percent focused on anti-vibration products, traditionally a regional European business.
Williams sees opportunity there, but he estimates that the anti-vibration business is about four or five years behind the sealing business in terms of becoming a global player. The company produces its anti-vibration products in Germany, not in North America or China. But in 2015, the firm launched product in China and in Mexico, bringing it over to new regions.
“We are starting to win programmes in other regions to show the customers that we are global,” Williams said. “We're putting in infrastructure and R&D testing capabilities in the other regions to help show our customers. That gives us the opportunity to start winning some anti-vibration business to grow that business outside of Europe, which will aide us in becoming a bigger player.”
As for North America, Williams said lightweighting products to meet CAFE requirements remain a big focus for OEMs. They would like to have products that are green, recyclable and affordable, which, for suppliers such as Henniges, means balancing opposing forces.
“They would like us to find something that's more recyclable,” he said. “But in saying that, those products have a higher cost, and they really want a low cost product. A lot of the focus is on high quality products that are not a high cost to them.”
South America, particularly Brazil, is another focus for Henniges. The firm established a strategic alliance with Burkool SA, a sealing components manufacturer based in Buenos Aires.
The initial terms of the alliance involved Henniges helping Burkool get its manufacturing capability up to North American standards. But the firms recently expanded the alliance to a presence based in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Henniges will move some of its current business to produce it locally with Burkool in South America. Burkool also will sell Henniges product in Argentina and South America.
Henniges said it and Burkool will design and develop a variety of weatherstrips and seals for doors, hoods, rear compartments and inner and outer belts.
Williams said India is a possible region for some expanded alliances or joint ventures. The firm has an existing presence through a similar alliance formed with Amee Rubber Industries Pvt. Ltd. in 2014. Amee produces sealing systems and moulded rubber parts for automobiles throughout India. The company, headquartered in Mumbai, India, operates a plant in Gujarat, India.
The firm has a similar alliance with AD Plastik dd in Togliatti, Russia, a company that manufactures plastic products – ranging from door panelling and instrument boards to ashtrays and ceiling light fixtures – for the automotive industry.
“First you've got to get the footprint in order for the customer to recognise that you're capable of manufacturing in all of the regions that they need you in,” Williams said.