One of the first telephone calls Dennis Pawley made after landing the top job at automotive lighting giant Guide Corp. was to UAW President Steve Yokich.
'I consider the UAW a partner in this process,' Pawley said in an interview. Indeed, Pawley will need UAW support as he moves to improve quality and cut costs at the Anderson, Ind., company.
Faced with persistent troubles with labor and manufacturing issues, the investment firm that controls Guide last week turned to the former DaimlerChrysler executive skilled in both.
Pawley, 58, was executive vice president of manufacturing and corporate labor relations for DaimlerChrysler in North America before he retired last year.
The new chairman and CEO of North America's largest supplier of headlamps and signal lights said he also must expand Guide's customer base, now almost exclusively dedicated to General Motors. Asked about plans involving his former employer, Pawley said, 'I'm not stupid, I'll knock on that door as soon as possible.'
Pawley is the most recent Chrysler expatriate tapped to run an auto parts maker. Others include Tom Stallkamp of MSX International Inc., Robert Lutz of Exide Corp. and Richard E. Dauch at American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. Like his former colleagues, he has his work cut out for him.
Guide has long been a flash point for disgruntled workers and a feisty union local. The company was spun off from General Motors' Delphi Automotive Systems in October 1998. Guide's two U.S. plants are old, large and have long suffered from insufficient capital investment.
New investment now comes from Palladium Equity Partners LLC, a private equity investment firm that picked Pawley for the job. Pawley's predecessor, former Chrysler executive Michael Hammes, left for an unspecified new challenge.
An executive at one of Guide's competitors expects Pawley to shake up the North American lighting business. 'They have the volume and could be a force to be reckoned with - in the future,' the executive said.
In the meantime, he said, Pawley will have to wrestle with union and manufacturing issues that still bedevil Guide. Like other GM spinoffs, Guide has a costly contract with its UAW employees.
Observers also expect Pawley to concentrate on lean production and investing in new technology. He has the right credentials. He is credited with developing the flexible, teamwork-based operating system Chrysler used for its turnaround before it merged with DaimlerBenz AG.
Analyst Gregory Janicki said Guide has a good business plan and, with 75 percent of GM's exterior lighting, is well positioned. But getting the necessary non-GM business is crucial to Guide's success, he said.
Guide is expected to retain GM's lighting contracts for five years, so Guide must soon begin making inroads at other automakers.
But Guide's mission comes as Visteon Automotive Systems, a key Ford Motor Co. lighting supplier, is also poised to be spun off. So Visteon, too, is seeking new customers, said Janicki, vice president at CSM Worldwide, an automotive forecasting and marketing firm in Northville, Mich.
'Visteon,' he said, 'is trying to grab (market) shares outside of Ford and everyone is looking at everyone else's back yard for business.'