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Cooper-Standard CEO looks before leap into new markets

By: By Allison Strouse
RUBBER & PLASTICS NEWS

February 18, 2013

NOVI, MICH. -- Jeffrey Edwards, Cooper-Standard Holdings Inc.'s new CEO, knows the value of plans. He made, and is pursuing, a 120-day plan after taking the top job at the automotive products maker last October, succeeding James McElya, who retired.

Part one of that plan: Spend 45 days listening and learning. The former vice president and general manager of Johnson Controls Inc.'s Asia business visited Novi, Mich.-based Cooper-Standard operations and customers throughout the world.

"That resulted with me going to nine countries, meeting with 12 customers and hundreds of Cooper-Standard employees and our largest shareholder," said the veteran of 28 years in the automotive industry.

"You can't run the place if you don't know what the products are and what the capital requirements are," he said. "The reason you need to understand [this] is because you are responsible for setting the groundwork, the strategy and changes to the strategy."

Edwards and Cooper-Standard now are in the second part of the planning campaign: digesting what he learned, developing strategies. One outgrowth of that effort already is clear: Cooper-Standard is going to Russia and intends to increase its business with automotive original equipment manufacturers in several other nations as well.

"We will expand in Russia this year in a significant way," Edwards said. The site for Cooper-Standard's first manufacturing operation in that nation is still being studied.

Russia is just one of several markets where the company is looking to do business.

"If we're going to continue to be successful and grow our business with the Korean OEMs, the Chinese OEMs, with the Japanese OEMs, then we need infrastructure within those markets."

Having a manufacturing presence in key countries is part of what Edwards sees as a three-pronged approach to being a leader in the company's field.

"It's products, geography and customers," he said.

It comes down to finding out what each region's customers need, he said.

"You look at the opportunities in Russia, you look at the opportunities in other Eastern European countries that are about growth," he said. "You look at the different European customers that we do business with today, and it isn't the same for each."

The firm has to start taking an individual approach with each market, not assuming the problems in North America are the same as in Asia, he said.

"If you're the leader in technology, if you're the leader in your market, then why can't you be a leader for each and every customer in each and every region?" he asked. "It isn't going to work to be the leader in two markets out of the world. You're going to have to be able to produce in five or seven different markets if you're going to be the leader."