Crain News Service
DETROIT - Early retirement apparently does not agree with Charles Becker, a supplier-entrepreneur who built a billion-dollar business and then sold it last year.
Becker will buy back some of the U.S.-based plants that he sold last year to auto interior-systems giant Johnson Controls Inc.
The sale price was not disclosed, but Becker will recapture eight injection molding plants once owned by his company, Becker Group Inc. of Sterling Heights, Mich. Becker also has repurchased two of his former tool shops and a share in a minority-owned molder in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Becker, with several other former Becker Group executives, created a new company, Becker Ventures LLC of Troy, Mich., to run the newly acquired plants. Becker, known to be media shy, did not respond to requests for information about his new company.
JCI, which bases its automotive systems group in Plymouth, Mich., realized the facilities were not a good strategic fit, said spokesman David Roznowski. Parts made at those plants typically are sent to larger suppliers for assembly into interior systems, and JCI traditionally outsources most of its tooling operations, he said.
'Other plants in the (Becker Group) were much more appealing to us,' Roznowski said. 'We've kept those operations.'
JCI retains Becker Group's European operations, which accounted for about 70 percent of Becker's $1.3 billion in 1997 sales. Much of that business came from Becker's acquisition in 1996 of Gebr. Happich GmbH of Wuppertal, Germany.
JCI also will retain several of Becker's North American plants, including a plant in Cottondale, Ala. That plant assembles interior parts for the Mercedes-Benz M-class sport-utility produced in Vance, Ala.
The JCI facility needs to grow to support increased Mercedes business, said Hubert Eisengarten, JCI business unit manager for Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. JCI plans to expand the Cottondale plant and to add injection molding equipment there eventually.
Plant size will increase from 65,000 square feet to 153,000 square feet, and about 50 employees will be added in Cottondale. The expansion is to be complete by July, Eisengarten said.
Another plant retained by JCI in Puebla, Mexico, makes door panels and interior trim pieces for Volkswagen AG's Beetle and Golf models.
Becker, meanwhile, will regain plants that make hard interior trim, scuff plates, radio bezels and other interior parts. The injection molding plants are in Michigan, Missouri, Maryland and Tennessee.
Johnson Controls is the fifth-largest supplier of original equipment parts to North America, according to Automotive News rankings based on 1997 sales. The Becker Group ranked No. 73 when it was purchased.
The sale by JCI was retroactive to Jan. 1.