Johnson Controls Inc. set out to prove once and for all that size does matter.
The automotive supplier, which bases its automotive operations in Plymouth, Mich., raised a collective wow throughout the industry in July 1996 when it bought Prince Automotive.
The purchase price for the Holland, Mich., interior-parts supplier was a staggering $1.35 billion in cash. And, beyond that, Prince was an insular, family-owned company — albeit one with $850 million in sales — that was known for its charitable causes and redevelopment of downtown Holland.
Many observers wondered what kind of shock to the system it would be for the close-knit company to be owned by JCI, a multinational colossus with $3.8 billion alone in automotive sales in 1995.
But the match has proved enduring so far. JCI, a major player in automotive seating, has used Prince's engineering center as the locus of North American interiors product development. Many of JCI's most innovative new ideas, including the marrying of electronics devices with instrument panels, have come from its Prince subsidiary.
Maybe its success with Prince was a guide, or maybe it was just too difficult to resist. But JCI did it again in May 1998. The supplier bought another family-owned interior-parts processor, Becker Group Inc. This time, the purchase price was $548 million, and JCI assumed another $372 million in debt.
The deal was also a stealth blow that few in the industry had expected. Brothers Charles and Bruce Becker had inherited a tooling business from their father and grown it to about $1.3 billion in 1997 sales, mainly from injection molding.
In the case of Becker Group, JCI had its eye on Europe, where Becker had recorded about 70 percent of its sales. Since the sale, JCI has sold off a plastics-prototype parts center it had gained as part of the deal. And, on Jan. 29, Charles Becker bought back eight injection molding plants and two tooling shops that had been sold to JCI in 1998.
JCI's moves have solidified its position as an interiors power. It has surpassed $8 billion in automotive sales and cemented its position on the global stage.
Late last year, with its own brand identity moving farther afield from its original seating operations, JCI made another, more symbolic move. It dropped the Prince and Becker names from its subsidiaries and consolidated all its operations under the JCI nameplate.
Even in Holland, where the Prince name had been lordly since the company's founding in 1965, the change was not met with any public disapproval.