A recent flight from Detroit to Germany found TI Automotive executive Domenico Milicia sitting uncomfortably in coach, but all the richer for it.
Under company policy, the director of human resources is entitled to travel to his overseas meetings in the relative comfort of business class. But a higher power had persuaded him to ride in the cheap seats.
That higher power was his boss, Bill Kozyra -- and a thousand bucks cash.
"What's the most economical way to travel?" Kozyra, CEO of the automotive supplier, asks rhetorically, slightly grinning at the simple win-win beauty of it. "I'll give people a thousand-dollar incentive to give up their business-class seat and fly coach."
Employees such as Milicia pocket some spending money at a time when bonuses and profit-sharing programs have been on the rocks around the industry. And TI, with 126 plants in 27 countries, potentially saves thousands of dollars per business trip. Instead of costing $7,000, Milicia's coach ticket cost $400.
Kozyra, silver-haired at 53, shrugs off the novelty. It is just one of the changes the lifelong Detroiter has introduced to cut $130 million a year out of the overhead at TI.
The payoff? Kozyra thinks his customers now view what was previously a private-equity-controlled manufacturer of fuel tanks and fluid lines in a new light.
In the past seven months, automakers have rewarded TI with new contracts totaling $3 billion -- or "2 billion pounds sterling," as Kozyra, who grew up making wooden dies in his father's Detroit die shop, puts it. TI's legal headquarters remains in Oxford, England, but its operational headquarters has moved to suburban Detroit.
"The industry has spoken," Kozyra concludes. "They like what we've done here."