President and CEO
US Farathane Corp., Auburn Hills
Why he’s a Champion of the New Economy:
With more than 90 percent of its sales in the automotive industry, US Farathane Corp., a supplier of plastic trim, molding, and parts with eight facilities in Michigan, saw the 2008 global financial crisis coming. “But that still didn’t mean we sailed through it without any challenges,” says Andy Greenlee, president and CEO of the Auburn Hills-based supplier which last year posted $270 million in revenue. “We had to tighten our belts, pull back on spending, initiate cuts, and freeze our 401(k) plan. Everybody in the company saw a reduction.”
The auto industry struggled in 2008 and 2009. How did you weather the storm?
We were aggressive early on and had a plan in place. We worked extremely hard with all of our partners, our banks, and our suppliers. Communication was a big part of it. If our team doesn’t understand what’s going on, and how we’re going to get out of it, there’s going to be a lot of confusion. As part of our plan, every two weeks I wrote and distributed (an electronic) memo to all of our employees telling them where we were at, where we needed to be, and how we were going to get there. While we made cuts, we made a commitment to reinstate things once the business turned around. And we did that.
How did you manage to build a 240,000- square-foot headquarters amid a challenging lending market in 2010?
We’ve always maintained a strong relationship with the banking community. We were in Sterling Heights, but we had run out of room (to grow) and we had to have more square footage for R&D and office space. Basically we had to double the footprint. We tried to look for a building that would fit our needs, but there was nothing out there. Had we tried to renovate, it would have cost about the same had we built new. What helped on the financing side (for the new headquarters) was that we had booked business. What’s more, we were able to continue to manufacture in the building in Sterling Heights.
Where do you see growth coming?
I see growth through reaching into new markets — including overseas — while continuing to serve and enhance our current customers. We work with the Big Three automakers, as well as Honda, Volkswagen, and Mercedes. Last year we produced more than 100 million parts, 58 million of which were headrest guides. We have our parts on more than 60 vehicle platforms, so it takes a lot of planning and coordination to make it all happen. We also serve the heavy truck and geothermal markets. We monitor our supply side very closely, especially as it relates to material costs.
What’s your biggest challenge?
We are doing fairly well, but as we become more successful, the challenge will be to maintain our culture, passion, and pride. We’re not having trouble with that, but it is something I focus on every day. At one time I knew every employee in our plants, but now that we have 1,900 workers, that’s been more difficult. I started here in 1996 (as an executive vice president) and I still enjoy coming to work each day. If your team is driving results, it’s better for everyone. Our employees actively recruit people to come work here.
How do you compete for engineering talent in a tight labor market?
It continues to be a challenge. If you have the right culture and a dedicated staff, I think potential employees pick up on that when they’re touring your facilities and meeting your employees. I think the state of Michigan (under Gov. Rick Snyder) has done a tremendous job in reducing business taxes and streamlining regulations. The things that Gov. Snyder and the Legislature put into place will help draw and retain businesses in the short term and the long term. Michigan also is blessed with natural resources, and there are plenty of great places to live and visit. It all helps. We are looking forward to more growth here.