For the past three months, Original Equipment Suppliers Association founder Neil De Koker has been easing the reins of his organization into the hands of its new CEO, Julie Fream.
That transition now is over as Fream leads the organization solo, as of Jan. 1.
Fream, 49, a former Visteon Corp. executive, has held a variety of automotive manufacturing, sales and marketing jobs for the past 30 years.
In 1983, she joined General Motors as a manufacturing engineer, and subsequently worked for Ford Motor Co. and TRW Automotive Inc. as a program manager. She spent 14 years at Visteon, where she eventually managed the global marketing group.
Fream departed Visteon in 2011. Since then, she has served as a trustee of Michigan Technological University and Oakwood Healthcare.
Fream was interviewed by Crain's Detroit Business reporter Dustin Walsh in December to discuss the new role of suppliers and her vision for the OESA. Crain's Detroit Business is an affiliate of Automotive News.
How did you end up here?
I've been in auto my whole career. I started in the early '80s working for General Motors. That was how I got my start. I actually grew up in Dearborn, and my father is a Ford retiree, so I've always been around vehicles.
For the OESA position, I was actually contacted by a recruiter. I was interested in doing something a little bit different ... finding ways to give back to the community. I had interviewed at other nonprofits, but when this position came along, because it was so tied into my own experience, I felt like this was a great opportunity ... to give back to the industry.
You've held a lot of different roles in the industry. How will those benefit you at the OESA?
I had time in marketing and communications ... a lot of time in sales as well. First of all, my time dealing with the OEs (automakers) and spending time connecting with suppliers and the media, all of that helps because it is all relationship-based. A lot of the work at OESA is relationship-based, and using the relationships I have and expanding them will be a huge part of what I need to do in leading the OESA.
What will be the first initiatives in 2014?
One is ensuring that we hold on to the transparency and the collaboration that has developed in the industry over the past few years through some of our biggest trials. I want to make sure as a trade association we promote this whole supply-chain collaboration and that we're talking about what we need to do to ensure that transparency as we move forward. I also believe we need to work on the image of the industry, to help retain and attract talent to the industry. ... We did our Generation Auto video (contest), and that's just a small beginning in terms of how we need to connect and communicate within the industry about what we do, (and) how challenging, fun and technical our work is.
(We need) to encourage not only young graduates to come, but also to encourage people to stay in the industry after they have a few years of experience.
Is the talent shortage still a problem?
What we're seeing is a real need emerge. There's been this rumbling that there's going to be this shortage of engineers. Now is the time to address that. I don't have all the plans in place at this point, but a huge part of it is going to be collaboration across many of types of organizations. ... I don't think any one organization can do this on its own. The challenge will be to bring the groups of people together ... and find the path that we can all work together on.
Where do universities and education come in?
One of things I personally do is sit on the board of control at Michigan Technological University. The connection and the understanding of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and what's happening on the education side in Michigan is something I also take part in. I'd like to begin to bridge that and see what we can do to better connect those.
What's the greatest challenge for the industry in 2014?
Capacity is the issue of the day. The challenge there is we are approaching a point where many suppliers are going to need to add significant investment -- whether that's in capital equipment or building infrastructure. So the transparency that needs to be from the OEs to the suppliers and the suppliers to the other tiers is very critical.
I really believe we have to have the open discussions and dialogue about longer-term plans. If we're not having those discussions more than just, "OK, we need it for the next year or 18 months," then we're going to revert back into a situation where perhaps we have too much capacity the next time the cyclical changes come through the industry.
Are there segments in the industry the OESA is missing?
We need to help some of the smaller suppliers and recognize that 70 percent of our membership is what you might consider smaller suppliers. We have to help them as they look to expand their businesses beyond either the U.S. or North America as they meet the demands of global platforms for these OEs. I think debt is one issue, which is why it's important they understand that the debt they are taking on is backed by long-term contracts. Also, it's the unknown of how to operate in an unknown foreign environment. What are the tax requirements? What are the regulations I have to follow? Educating and providing a way for our members to learn about that is critical.
One of the comments I've made to the team is that, as we look forward 15 years from now, the demographics of our business are going to be very different from now. In essence, the baby boomers will have retired. You're now looking at Gen Y, Gen X, millennials in the business. What does a trade association need to do to support them? These are all the things that OESA needs to look at and plan to look at as we move forward.