I thought she made a brilliant move in hiring away longtime Ford Motor Co. executives Phil Martens and Matt DeMars in 2005 to help run Plastech. Martens, once a rising star at Ford, clearly was being groomed to run Plastech and take the company to a new level.
It looked like Brown had found the right time to turn her company over to a new generation of respected executives, enabling her to step back and serve as a more public role model for women and minority entrepreneurs.
But it never happened.
Instead, things at Plastech quickly deteriorated. Martens parted ways with Brown just nine months later in an adversarial breakup.
By early 2008 the Great Recession was looming, and Plastech was carrying $488 million in debt. And then the fatal blow: Quality lapses hit, and Plastech’s big customers, led by Chrysler, terminated their business. Plastech filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and its assets were sold to longtime competitors.
Along with that, there was plenty of ugly litigation in bankruptcy court that was widely reported at the time.
It was disappointing to see it all happen.
Julie Nguyen Brown did some great things with her life and she brought some desperately needed diversity to the auto industry. She wasn’t like anyone else in the business.
The last time I heard from Julie was the day she put Plastech into bankruptcy. She wanted to make sure I got the scoop and didn’t want anyone else to write the story. I guess it’s appropriate that this blog will be the last story I write about her.