Frank Macher's retirement from Ford Motor Co.'s auto parts operations last November was sweet but short-lived.
Last week, Macher toweled off from the beach scene and accepted a job as president of ITT Automotive.
'I thought it would be fun to take a winner and try and move it up a couple of notches,' said Macher, 56. 'I really had no intention of going back to work. But then I met Travis Engen (CEO of ITT Industries) and realized there was a synergy there that would enable us to grow the business.'
Macher was vice president and general manager of Ford's Automotive Components Division. Since retiring, he has been beach hopping with his wife, including a 35-day vacation in Hawaii.
Now, he said, he wants to take ITT Automotive into deeper waters.
Macher noted that ITT Automotive's business is divided almost 50-50 between North America and Europe. In the future, he said, a larger share of the world's autos will come out of Latin America and Asia.
'I love to grow things,' Macher says. 'At Ford we grew the business in China, Brazil and Eastern Europe. We have to grow into those areas.'
ITT Automotive already has a foothold in Latin America, where it holds 50 percent of the Brazilian original-equipment brake market, Macher said. In recent years, the company also has begun two joint ventures in China and one in Korea.
During Macher's 30 years at Ford, he lived in Japan and managed Ford's business development in Asia.
ITT Automotive, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., ranks 13th on Automotive News' list of the largest OEM suppliers to North America. In 1996, the company had North American sales of $2.5 billion and worldwide sales of about $5 billion.
No. 2 on the Automotive News list is Macher's former employer, Ford Automotive Products Operations, with estimated worldwide sales of $16.4 billion.
Engen has been acting head of ITT Automotive since last November's departure of Tim Leuliette, now president of Penske Corp.
In addition to brake systems, ITT Automotive produces fluid handling systems, switches, electronics (including motors), wipers and die castings.
Macher said ITT's challenges are the same as those facing all automotive suppliers: pressure on profit margins and the general industry push toward entire parts systems, rather than individual components.
The drive toward component 'modules' puts suppliers under pressure to provide more engineering support to customers, creating additional corporate costs at a time when the vehicle manufacturers are attempting to drive down their own costs.
Engen said that ITT Automotive has beefed up research and development expenditures during the past four years and does not plan additional increases in the near future.