DETROIT—Jeffrey Edwards, Cooper-Standard Holdings Inc.'s new CEO, knows the value of plans. He made, and is pursuing, a 120-day plan after taking the automotive products maker's top job last October, succeeding James McElya, who retired.
Part one: Spend 45 days listening and learning. The former vice president and general manager of Johnson Controls Inc.'s Asia business visited Cooper-Standard operations and customers throughout the world.
"That resulted with me going to nine countries, meeting with 12 customers and hundreds of Cooper-Standard employees and our largest shareholder," said the veteran of 28 years in the automotive industry.
"You can't run the place if you don't know what the products are and what the capital requirements are," he said. "The reason you need to understand (this) is because you are responsible for setting the ground work, the strategy and changes to the strategy."
Edwards and Cooper-Standard now are in the second part of the planning campaign—digesting what he learned, developing strategies. One outgrowth of that effort already is clear: Cooper-Standard is going to Russia, and intends to increase its business with automotive original equipment manufacturers in several other nations as well.
"We will expand in Russia this year in a significant way," Edwards said. The site for Cooper-Standard's first manufacturing operation in that nation is still being studied.
Russia is just one of several markets where customers want Cooper-Standard to do business.
"If we're going to continue to be successful and grow our business with the Korean OEMs, the Chinese OEMs, with the Japanese OEMs, then we need infrastructure within those markets."
Having a manufacturing presence in key countries is part of what Edwards sees as a three-pronged approach to being a leader in the company's field. "It's products, geographically and customers," he said.
Edwards said his grand tour of the firm and customers revealed the company's strength in technology.
"I found great technology specifically around our sealing business," he said, where the firm is a global leader. "I found a similar situation with our fluid and brake business."
He learned of other characteristics of Cooper-Standard that serve the company well.
"I found a problem-solving culture that our customers value as well," he said. "I found a lot of vertical integration. I found prototype capability. I found plant capability. I found creative engineering people who are active, very close to our customers, so when they hear they have an issue they can respond very fast."
Edwards said the firm needs to increase its global footprint and product lines.
"We still have a lot of white space in a number of geographies, we still have a lot white space in a lot of different customer portfolios," he said.
It comes down to finding out what each region's customers need, he said.
"You look at the opportunities in Russia, you look at the opportunities in other Eastern European countries that are about growth," he said. "You look at the different European customers that we do business with today and it isn't the same for each."
Taking the lead
The firm has to start taking a unique approach with each market, not assuming the problems in North America are the same as Asia, he said.
"If you're the leader in technology, if you're the leader in your market, then why can't you be a leader for each and every customer in each and every region?" he asked. "It isn't going to work to be the leader in two markets out of the world. You're going to have to be able to produce in five or seven different markets if you're going to be the leader."
With customers looking for the same efficiency and speed regardless of being located in Turkey or Russia, a company's reputation is built on that.
"We need to be able to take our best technology and our best solutions to each of those customers with the same speed, the same level of efficiency and the same level of effectiveness if we want to grow," he said. "If you're able to deliver and you have great technology and they trust you, you'll have good business. If you're missing one or two of those things then you're in trouble."
The growth areas of the world represent opportunity for Cooper-Standard, but Edwards said the company also is carefully monitoring the state of the automotive business in Europe.
"It's impossible not to be concerned with the economic situation," he said. Cooper-Standard anticipates a continued softening of the European automotive market for the next 12-18 months.
Staying very close to its customers allows the company to understand what's going on and if any changes need to occur.
"Some years some markets are growing and some aren't," he said. "If you're global it certainly helps you weather those storms as (opposed to) if you're heavily dependent on one region."
But out of hardship sometimes a select few are able to prosper.
"As a result of downturns we tend to look at markets and potential partnerships or potential mergers and acquisitions," he said.
Edwards had spent the last eight years primarily serving Johnson Controls' automotive manufacturer customers located in Asia, and was responsible for wherever they operated throughout the world.
"I was really focused more on managing the business with those customers (based in the region)," he said. "I spent 60 percent of my time there (in Asia) and 40 percent between Europe and North America."
The Pennsylvania native and Clarion University graduate moved with his family five times in the past nine years. He was not interested in moving out of the automotive field, and had some specific criteria for the company where he wanted to land.
"It had to be a very international company," he said. "I wanted to go to a company that wants to continue to grow, that wants to continue to invest in the automotive business."
He said that's what he found at Cooper-Standard.