Delphi has been in Chapter 11 for more than three years. Brown, 59, admits that the job of keeping up morale in the r&d team while Delphi cuts costs has been "very tough." But Brown, who joined Delphi in 1996, also knows that to survive after bankruptcy, Delphi needs to innovate now to have products ready in the future.
"The important thing is to not let the company forget that innovation is the lifeblood of the company," he says. "When you get through the bankruptcy, are you going to have a portfolio that's competitive, that's market-relevant and that's going to be profitable? The worst thing that could happen is that you survive the bankruptcy and you've got nothing in your pipeline."
Today, all suppliers are struggling to preserve r&d budgets in the face of shrinking resources. Brown says his experience at Delphi can serve as an example of how to do that: "We were on this mission earlier than most."
Early on, he realized Delphi could not stick with its traditional r&d approach. "Our current model, our current structure isn't working. We've got to fix it," he recalls thinking.
-- Decide what r&d projects are critical.
-- Accept that some good but noncritical programs will be cut, then fight to preserve the critical ones.
-- Turn to nontraditional sources of ideas and innovation.
He believes he can motivate the r&d staff by insisting that Delphi's leadership keep programs that pass the "safe, green and connected" test, while allowing other projects to be cut. Delphi keeps programs that promote vehicle safety, take less of a toll on the environment and enhance wireless communication.
Then Brown assures engineers Delphi still is innovating, just in nontraditional ways. That means accepting r&d ideas and funding from any source that provides them, including universities, other companies and the government. Don't expect to do everything in-house, he says.