Dana Inc. CEO James K. Kamsickas is taking a holistic approach to his seat on President Donald Trump’s advisory council of manufacturing executives.
That means keeping an open mind on issues such as a border tax and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and speaking up for auto suppliers of all sizes, not just giants like Dana.
“It’s very important that there’s a voice there, which there is, that thinks not just how the big supplier may look at things but also the impact of the smaller supplier and all the way in between,” Kamsickas told Automotive News on Friday, one day after the executives in the president’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative convened for the first time at the White House.
“I’ve skinned my knees at the very small companies of auto suppliers to obviously the very large.”
Kamsickas, 50, started his career at Lear Corp. in 1989 , and later led Luxembourg-based International Automotive Components from its founding in 2007 to a 43rd-place ranking on Automotive News’ list of the top global automotive suppliers. He joined Dana in August 2015.
Regarding NAFTA and a potential 20 percent tariff floated by Trump on imports from Mexico, Kamsickas said it’s important for companies, including suppliers, to wait until all aspects of any trade reform are finalized. He said business leaders should take into account a potentially more business-friendly environment in the U.S., including exporting and capital expense benefits of repatriating money.
“If somebody looks at that as sort of a rifle-shot way of looking at things, that’s not the right way of looking at things. In my view, you have to look at it as more of a holistic view.”
Kamsickas declined to comment on whether he supports renegotiating NAFTA, but said the U.S. has “disadvantaged” itself compared with some parts of the world with regard to exports.
Most of Dana’s North American facilities are in the U.S. However it operates six locations in Mexico and five in Canada. The company would probably be less affected by a renegotiation or withdrawal from NAFTA compared with other suppliers that have invested more heavily in the countries.
OESA President Julie A. Fream, one of several officials Kamsickas spoke with before attending the meeting, agreed with Kamsickas’ approach to the talks. She added that her organization, which represents more than 430 suppliers, believes “there are opportunities to improve” the 23-year-old trade deal.
“There are some tremendous improvements that could be made to help the overall NAFTA situation,” she said Friday.
Trump announced the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative in January as a think tank to boost domestic manufacturing employment. The group includes executives from 28 U.S. companies, including Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi.
Kamsickas said the group broke into four subgroups -- infrastructure, workplace of the future, regulatory reform, and tax and trade -- before rejoining as a whole to discuss the issues. He was a part of the workplace group.
'Like a board meeting'
“We treated the thing very much like a staff meeting, a board meeting,” Kamsickas said. “It was very productive.”
Kamsickas’ comments reflect those of others after the meeting, including Fields, who also described the meeting as “productive.”
Ford spokeswoman Christin Baker said Fields participated “in the working group on tax, and he is very encouraged the administration has placed such a high priority on tax reform.”
Trump used Ford throughout his campaign as a punching bag, an example of companies that invest in Mexico instead of the U.S. Tensions between the two sides have eased since Trump’s inauguration and the announcement that Ford would pull back its Mexico investment plans.
Dana produces axles, driveshafts and thermal management components. With sales of $6.6 billion in 2015, the Maumee, Ohio, company ranks 39th on Automotive News’ list of the top global automotive suppliers.
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