AURORA, Ontario—Magna International Inc. spread its wings under Don Walker, and the Canadian auto industry soared as a result.
Walker's colleagues and competitors believe Canada's supply chain gained respect in an increasingly complex and globalized landscape, thanks in large part to his 15-year run as CEO of Magna International.
Walker, 64, who retires at the end of this month, focused on global expansion and the development of new technologies, which helped give other Canadian suppliers credibility and fueled their own growth, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association.
During Walker's time as CEO, the Aurora-based company became the world's third-largest auto parts supplier, with worldwide sales to auto makers of $39.43 billion in 2019. Its plastics operations, which includes major exterior trim such as bumper fascia and liftgates, includes an estimated $265 million in injection molding in North America along, placing it at No. 36 in Plastics News ranking.
It also has invested in composites, with a global technology center in Germany. The company developed a composite frame for liftgates made of a foam core wound with continuous glass fiber and infused with polyurethane thermoset material.
The development won it a Pace award from Automotive News in 2020, and the company is looking at more opportunities to place it on cars for liftgates and doors.
Magna employs 152,000 people in 27 countries. Its explosive growth under Walker's leadership proved to be invaluable for other Canadian suppliers, Volpe said.
"For many other Canadian companies, that was the guiding block to get others into different markets," Volpe said. "That's Don's vision."
Rob Wildeboer, chairman of Magna competitor Martinrea International Inc., said Walker "always saw the big picture."
Wildeboer said Walker helped persuade Canadian policy makers of the importance of creating and retaining auto manufacturing jobs domestically, especially during the Great Recession, which drove Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy more than a decade ago.
"In 2008, there were a lot of people in this country, including in Ontario, asking why we should support a smokestack industry," Wildeboer said.
"There was a public perception issue we were fighting against. But today, a lot of people are saying it's important to make things, and it's important to make things here. We see the benefits of it when in a pandemic, when a number of companies including automotive companies jumped in to help make ventilators and masks" and personal protective equipment.
While Walker is stepping away from Magna, he suggested that he would likely remain in the auto industry in some capacity. He told Automotive News Canada that he would be "looking at some new technologies" and would work on projects he is passionate about.