DETROIT - Two auto industry executives who attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month say a change in tone at the annual conference helped them in their respective missions.
Both Delphi Corp. CEO J.T. Battenberg III and turnaround guru Jay Alix say anti-American sentiment was much lighter this year than last.
And the current financial scandal at Parmalat, an Italian dairy company, likely helped the rest of the world realize that corporate-governance problems aren't unique to the United States, says Battenberg, a champion of corporate ethics.
Alix didn't attend the conference last year but heard and read about the anti-Americanism as the country was gearing up for war in Iraq. This year, Alix found several countries privatizing industries that need capital and turnaround experts. Alix is founder of turnaround firm AlixPartners LLC and the private-equity fund Questor Partners Fund LLC, both based in Southfield, Mich.
"There're a lot of countries in the world involved in privatization, and they need a lot of restructuring and a lot of capital," Alix says. "That's our business model."
Alix also found new potential sources of money for Questor.
"I learned a lot about where sources of capital can be around the world," he says. Battenberg says he led well-attended sessions on ethical corporate governance. "There was probably a strong feeling the past couple of years that these are unique to the United States. Good corporate governance is a global challenge. I spoke on CEO and board effectiveness and global sourcing, and the sessions were sold out. There's huge interest in Europe on what the U.S. is going through with Sarbanes-Oxley."
Battenberg and Alix say that having access to so many business and government leaders is invaluable. Battenberg met with government officials from countries where Delphi operates. "It's important," he says, "when you're dealing in a NAFTA environment and in the world, to have an understanding of taxes, tariffs and the culture of the countries you're dealing with."
Terry Kosdrosky is a staff reporter for Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication to Automotive News.