If Chassis Brakes International looks like a manufacturing startup, the impression is understandable. Until this year, the Netherlands-based brake supplier did not operate in North America. Its plants in Europe, Thailand, Brazil, China and elsewhere supply customers around the world. But for North America — no plant, no customers.
That changed this year with the opening of a plant in Queretaro, Mexico, its first in the NAFTA region, where it will produce brakes for Ford Motor Co. and Daimler AG. Dennis Berry, president for the Americas region, spoke with News Editor Lindsay Chappell about the decision-making involved in the Mexico site, where volume production gets underway this month.
Q: What were your major considerations in choosing where to build your first North American plant?
A: We're starting from zero in North America but growing faster than any other region. We knew we wanted to be in Mexico to start. The big question was where. And we looked at a matrix of issues for logistics.
Companies sometimes say picking an automotive plant site is mostly about logistics — proximity to customers, highways, rail. Is that true?
There's much more to it. For me, the No. 1 question was, "Are our people going to be safe?" We brought a lot of people in for this project. And it was very important to me that, wherever we asked people to go, it was going to feel safe for them and their families.
How did you do that?
As we narrowed down the possible locations, we had a list of qualitative considerations. I looked through our choices and decided, "I won't take them here, I won't take them there."
I asked suppliers in different locations what their experiences were. I also asked for maps of crime activity. They were color coded. Green meant one level, blue another, yellow and then red. You knew not to be in those areas, which are usually in the border towns.
Another issue I factored in was local education. Kids are going to be coming through the education system. Did we feel we could get not just the number of people, but also the quality of people we need.
Were you also thinking about your future recruitment needs, for when it comes time to bring in managers and engineers from elsewhere in the company?
Yes, absolutely. It was important to consider the people who would be transferring there in the future. When you're trying to convince finance guys to relocate, it had better be a good destination. When we were making this decision, one manager said to me, "I'll go here, but not there." Which I listened to.
In the end, you do the matrix, but it's not just about the money. You're creating a quality of life.