CFO, Panasonic Automotive
Big break: As a young plant controller for a factory project in 2008, Ostertag was part of a team that earned a Johnson Controls Chairman’s Award for launching the high-profile assignment.
Nearly 15 years ago, Kevin Ostertag was just getting started at Johnson Controls when he was assigned to a high-profile startup project as plant controller.
“It was an awesome experience seeing a Georgia red clay lot transform into a plant with more than $500 million in revenues in two years,” he said.
But it was also a financially challenging project. With a cross-functional team of plant, purchasing, engineering and sales personnel, the group put together a successful plan to launch the program at an acceptable return on investment. The turnaround earned the team a company Chairman’s Award.
That was a memorable break in Ostertag’s career, which has centered on problem-solving for complex projects. He focuses on looking forward amid big changes in the auto industry.
“Whether it be autonomous, electrification, shared mobility — all these trends affect what we’re doing,” Ostertag told Automotive News. “If all we do is look at how our business is run today, then in five to 10 years, we’re going to wonder what happened and how we missed it.”
In his current role with Panasonic Automotive, which he started a year ago, Ostertag is involved in the company’s immediate financial needs and looking for the next big opportunities that will allow it to grow and thrive.
“It’s a critical time to be making those decisions,” he said.
Ostertag has faced similar challenges during his career.
In 2012, he was given financial responsibility for a plant that was losing millions of dollars. The management team seemed stuck. As the operations controller, Ostertag energized the team, closed the financial gap and put the plant on the road to profitability.
In 2014, as North America finance leader for Johnson Controls Automotive Interiors, Ostertag helped steer a spinoff of the business into a joint venture with the Chinese firm Yanfeng.
“Naturally, everybody’s mind gravitates to the worst possible outcome, which is, ‘everything is changing, everything is going to be different, and everything is going to be terrible,’ ” Ostertag said. But he was able to communicate with the team that the project was being carefully — and successfully — managed.
Sometimes fixing big problems comes down to focusing on the small things. That includes a 2020 project to get a handle on a backlog in overdue receivables.
“I’d like to say that it was an implementation of something really sophisticated and rocket science,” Ostertag said. “But it really had more to do with instilling visibility and establishing the fundamental processes to make the generation of cash more of a cadence then a brute force effort.
— Laurence Iliff