If you really want to transform a company, hire a foreigner to run it.
After eight months on the job, Calsonic Kansei CEO Beda Bolzenius, a native of Germany, is working to diminish his Japanese company's heavy reliance on its biggest customer, Nissan Motor Co.
His big move came Oct. 22, when Calsonic announced the $7.1 billion acquisition of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' in-house supplier, Magneti Marelli.
Bolzenius and his team have hired 10 executives to help transform the newly united company, which is expected to have $17.1 billion in global sales. The new team plans to exploit Calsonic's expertise in cockpit displays and thermal management to meet demand for infotainment and electric vehicle components.
"We have 10 people who can really make a difference," Bolzenius told Automotive News. "We have a full basket of projects that will improve our market position."
To be clear, Calsonic is not in turnaround mode. Under former CEO Hiroshi Moriya, the Japanese supplier's profits were strong, but Calsonic had to reinvent itself as cost-conscious Nissan dismantled its old keiretsu network of affiliated suppliers.
In 2016, Nissan sold its 41 percent share of Calsonic to the giant American investment house KKR & Co. for $4.5 billion. Moriya vowed to find new customers, and he began to hire more non-Japanese executives.
Sales rose to an estimated $9.1 billion in fiscal 2017, but it took time to diversify the customer base. Last year, Nissan still accounted for 85 percent of Calsonic sales.
In March this year, Calsonic picked up the pace when it hired Bolzenius as CEO and named Moriya chairman.
Bolzenius, who once ran Johnson Controls' $20 billion seat division, has made use of his JCI connections. In July, he hired Volker Krebs, former CFO of JCI's automotive division, to be Calsonic's chief transformation officer, a new position.
And in September, he hired former JCI purchasing executive Andy Koehler to be Calsonic's chief procurement officer.
Both executives will play key roles in the new organization. According to Bolzenius, Krebs is launching 20 projects to reorganize Calsonic. And Koehler will oversee efforts to mesh Calsonic's supplier network with that of Magneti Marelli.