DETROIT — Scott Greer is on the hot seat.
After six months on the job, Greer, president of United Technologies Automotive, is trying to jump-start a $3 billion business that has seen profit decline 37 percent in the past six months.
His predecessor, Norm Bodine, was reassigned abruptly by parent United Technologies Corp. in December after he was unable to reverse sliding profit.
Now it's Greer's turn. During an interview last month with Plastics News' sister publication Automotive News, Greer, former president of Echlin Inc., acknowledged that his biggest headache is UTA's interior parts division, which makes headliners, instrument panels and plastic trim.
That division underwent a wrenching reorganization last year, disrupting production and causing chaotic product launches.
``It was surprising to me that the interiors division got that much out of control,'' Greer said. ``But the worst is behind us, and our problems [did not affect] our customers.''
UT Automotive placed fourth in Plastics News' 1997 ranking of North American injection molders, with related sales of $562 million in 1996. The firm said at the time it operated 345 injection molding machines in 18 North American plants.
Greer has launched his own recovery program, a plan that includes cutbacks. This summer he eliminated 300 jobs from the Dearborn, Mich., headquarters staff and electrical division.
But Greer insists he does not plan another corporate upheaval at UTA. In the interview, Greer spelled out his view of what went wrong, and how he plans to fix it.
Last year, Bodine launched an ambitious effort to revitalize the interiors group. He brought in a new chief for the division — Ed Northern, a former executive of Pratt & Whitney, the United Technologies subsidiary that makes jet engines.
Shortly after he was brought in, Northern made his move: He shut down six plants, cut 15 percent of his salaried staff, and launched a kaizen program to boost productivity.
The interiors division showed an upturn in profit, but in Greer's words, ``They were sitting on the edge of a precipice.''
Short of staff, the interiors division botched its own reorganization. Northern, the division's president, had closed underused plants and consolidated production in his remaining facilities.
But those plants were unable to maintain smooth production, Greer said. Unexpected parts shortages forced some plants into last-minute ``panic'' production schedules.
Worse yet, certain product launches forced UTA to send SWAT teams of supervisors to the plants. The interiors division also had to hire new managers to fill jobs that had been eliminated. In short, the staff cutbacks and plant closures did not save much money.
Despite all that, Greer said the interiors division is positioned for a comeback. In the next nine months, Greer predicts, the unit will boost profit from the year-ago period.
He hopes to achieve that with various step-by-step improvements, rather than yet another sweeping reorganization.
``There are still some bits and pieces that might have to be moved, but we won't do it in the frenzy that occurred last year,'' Greer said.
Greer was coy on the subject of Northern's future. But he hinted that the next year or so would be critical.
``Performance is what we all get paid for,'' Greer said.
While the interiors division sorts itself out, Greer is reorganizing the rest of the company. First, he moved to coordinate each division's marketing efforts, so that each customer would be handled by a unified sales team.
Previously, each division's sales force made little effort to market component systems instead of individual components. It was as if the company's four divisions — for interiors, wire harnesses, electrical switches and steering wheels — were separate companies, Greer said.
``They didn't work together, and they didn't even call on customers together,'' he said. ``It was a disservice to the company.''
With the reorganization, Greer hopes to peddle component systems such as door panels with electrical wiring preinstalled.
To develop new products, Greer is consolidating UTA's various research efforts into one operation. To house its research and development operations, the company is building an ``idea center'' next to its Dearborn headquarters.
During the interview, Greer exuded confidence as he spelled out his expectations. But he also was frank about the current challenges.
In the second quarter, profit dropped 35.3 percent from year-ago levels to $33 million. Sales fell 9.2 percent to $782 million. Part of that was due to a strike at Chrysler Corp., but Greer does not expect sales to increase this year.
In the wake of those results, some Wall Street analysts are whispering that United Technologies ought to sell its problem child, the automotive unit. Greer has no patience for such speculation.
``We are not for sale,'' he said. ``I wasn't brought in to clean the place up, put some lipstick and rouge on it, and sell it.''
Investors, stay tuned.