5. Bosch: Who's in charge?

Each of our Top Five suppliers prefers to let local managers run foreign operations. German electronics maker Robert Bosch GmbH relied on that principle more than most.

In 1996, Bosch established itself as a major player in North America when it acquired AlliedSignal's Bendix brake operation for $1.5 billion. The acquisition gave Bosch the ability to make complete brake systems - a capability shared by only three major rivals.

To guide its North American expansion, the company named Robert Oswald - then president of Bosch's U.S. automotive operations - as its first non-German director.

The company also put Oswald in charge of its worldwide brake operations. That appointment indicated North America's importance for Bosch.

The company's plan was straightforward: Seek U.S. customers for components that were big sellers in Europe.

Key products included brakes, electronic skid control, headlamps, alternators and microhybrids, which are small, rugged electronic control units.

Judging by its sales, Bosch's American strategy appears successful. The company is the largest foreign supplier doing business in North America, and it expects to continue growing.

In March, a Bosch executive said the company plans to triple its North American revenue by 2010.

Last year, North America accounted for 33 percent of Bosch's $17.8 billion in sales. Europe accounted for 55 percent of sales, and Asia accounted for 10 percent.

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com

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