Durrer, a Swiss-born executive with 30 years of auto industry experience, including CEO of Thyssenkrupp's global chassis business, acknowledges that Ningbo Joyson is not exactly a household name. The company was launched by Wang in 2004 to supply air-intake parts and windshield- washer systems to Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors. Since then, Joyson has grown steadily into new technologies and industry segments.
While at Thyssenkrupp, Durrer saw one of his top executives recruited to Key Safety after it was acquired by the Chinese company. Wang — who goes by the name Jeff Wang in Western business circles — soon invited Durrer to discuss a job possibility.
"He told me, you should come to China. We have a bigger deal we're working on," Durrer, now 64, recalled of his conversation with Wang. Wang asked him to be an adviser and later asked him to become CEO of the new company about 30 miles north of Detroit in Auburn Hills, Mich.
"What was attractive was that it would be a company that has four equally strong regions — North America, Europe, China and Japan," Durrer said of the Takata acquisition. "That's something you rarely find in automotive. A Bosch or a Conti has strong regions, of course. But this was an opportunity to bring together what is truly a global company."
Takata had been the world's largest airbag supplier until a period of potentially deadly product defects brought down the company. More than 100 million of its inflators were being recalled and blamed for 22 deaths worldwide.
But there remained enormous value in Takata, with its global manufacturing engineering and manufacturing footprint and its longstanding customer relationships, especially in the Japanese industry.
Wang believed the way to acquire Takata was through a third company. His plan was to buy Key Safety, the company once run by the American entrepreneur and airbag pioneer Allen Breed.
Wang paid $920 million for Key Safety in 2016. Through Key Safety, it competed for the chance to buy Takata, which entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017. Last year, Key paid $1.6 billion for most of Takata's global assets.