For Laurent Bresson, the 44-year-old COO of Nexteer Automotive, the key to a career is the job that forces you out of your comfort zone.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Bresson had his moment of truth in 1999, when he joined Delphi Corp. as an engineer. Delphi was developing a power sliding door for PSA Peugeot Citroen, the automaker’s first.
“I knew we had to start from scratch,” Bresson recalled. “It was my first big project as a program manager at Delphi. [PSA] wanted to advertise this feature, so there were a lot of eyes on the project.”
His superiors liked his work and gave him a string of promotions until he was assigned to Saginaw Steering Gear in 2006. Once again, his tolerance for risk served him well.
Delphi was reorganizing under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Bresson knew that his division would be spun off. Despite the uncertainty, “I was excited,” Bresson said. “I was going to be one of the decision-makers.”
The supplier now known as Nexteer Automotive didn’t take shape until 2010, after General Motors — which had acquired the division from Delphi — had emerged from its own bankruptcy. At that point, Bresson was running Nexteer’s European operations and global sales.
At the time, one might argue that the entire company was out of its collective comfort zone. Pacific Century Motors, a Beijing-based investment venture, had gained control of Nexteer that summer in a $450 million deal.
The company’s Chinese owners left management in place, and Bresson added president to his title was named COO in 2012 after CEO Robert Remenar stepped down.
Despite its rocky birth, Nexteer’s future appears bright. One of its main products, electric power steering systems, is in demand as automakers work to improve fuel economy.
Since 2012, sales have been growing 15 percent annually, and Nexteer is poised to expand in Asia. With 12,000 employees and 20 factories, it is a global company, so Bresson spends much of his time traveling.
This is heady stuff for a guy who got hooked on cars at an early age.
As a young boy growing up in France, Bresson began to memorize vehicles that he spotted during family trips in his dad’s car. By the time he was 8, he could identify a model by its taillights alone.
By the time he got his degree in electrical engineering in 1994, Bresson knew he wanted to work for an automaker or a supplier. He sent a batch of resumes to automotive companies, and subsequently got a job at Siemens VDO.
When he’s home in Michigan, Bresson likes to bike, play tennis, use personal watercraft jet-ski and play soccer with his 8-year-old son.
In short, life is good. So while it’s never wise for an auto executive to be complacent, it looks like Bresson is in his comfort zone now.
— David Sedgwick