DETROIT — Early retirement apparently does not agree with Charles Becker, an entrepreneur who built a billion-dollar business and then sold it last year.
As first reported from industry sources Jan. 25 in Plastics News, Becker will buy back some of the U.S.-based plants that he sold last year to auto interior-systems giant Johnson Controls Inc.
The sale price was not disclosed, but Becker will recapture eight injection molding plants once owned by his company, Becker Group Inc. of Sterling Heights, Mich. Becker also has repurchased two of his former tool shops and a share in a minority-owned molder in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Becker, with several other former Becker Group executives, created a new company, Becker Ventures LLC of Troy, Mich., to run the newly acquired plants. Becker, known to be media-shy, did not respond to information requests about his new company.
JCI realized the facilities were not a good strategic fit for the Tier 1 supplier, said spokesman David Roznowski. Parts made at those plants typically are sent to larger suppliers for assembly into interior systems, and JCI traditionally outsources most of its tooling operations, Roznowski said.
JCI's automotive systems group is based in Plymouth, Mich.
``Other plants in the [Becker Group] were much more appealing to us,'' Roznowski said. ``We've kept those operations.''
JCI retains Becker Group's European operations, which accounted for about 70 percent of Becker's $1.3 billion in 1997 sales. Much of that business came from Becker's acquisition in 1996 of Gebr. Happich GmbH of Wuppertal, Germany.
JCI also will retain several of Becker's North American plants, including a plant in Cottondale, Ala. That plant assembles virtually every interior part except instrument panels for the Mercedes-Benz M-class sport utility vehicles produced in Vance, Ala.
With a new, U.S.-built Mercedes sports car due out later this year, the JCI facility needs to grow to support increased Mercedes business, said Hubert Eisengarten, JCI business unit manager for Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. JCI plans to expand the Cottondale plant and to add injection molding equipment there eventually.
The number of injection presses added at the plant still must be determined, Eisengarten said.
Plant size will increase from 65,000 square feet to 153,000 square feet, and about 50 employees will be added in Cottondale. The expansion is to be completed by July, Eisengarten said.
JCI also kept a Puebla, Mexico, plant that makes door panels and interior trim pieces for Volkswagen AG's Beetle and Golf models.
Becker, meanwhile, will regain plants that make hard interior trim, scuff plates, radio bezels and other interior parts. The injection molding plants are in Clawson, Roseville, Sterling Heights and Owosso, Mich., the latter of which has two Becker Ventures plants; Havre de Grace, Md.; Nashville, Tenn.; and O'Fallon, Mo.
In addition, Becker again will hold an interest in Engineered Plastics Products Inc. of Ypsilanti. Becker Group has sold its share of the minority-owned injection molder to JCI as part of the purchase in May.
Engineered Plastic Products Chief Executive Officer Gerald Edwards did not return a telephone call, but, according to a 1995 Plastics News story, the Becker Group held a 45 percent interest in the molder.
The sale by JCI was retroactive to Jan. 1.