MARYSVILLE, MICH. - In little more than a year, Blue Water Plastics Inc. has gone from a family-owned automotive supplier to the North American arm of a European conglomerate.
It has gained a new president and chief executive officer but also retained input from the family that founded it.
As part of Switzerland's Sarna Group, the renamed Sarnamotive Blue Water Inc. now has full ownership of its former joint venture in Mexico and is building on its future as an international player. But executives say they will not forget its history.
``Clearly, this has been a family-run business,'' said new President and Chief Executive Officer Douglas C. Chapple, who was interviewed July 16 at Blue Water headquarters in Marysville. ``I'm amazed to see the number of high-seniority employees. I think they're all waiting to see our focus and how we continue to grow the company, continue to drive performance and still maintain the family atmosphere and the family relations.
``That's one of the things I'm trying to balance as we go forward.''
Chapple took over July 1. The former General Motors Corp. executive most recently was senior vice president and general manager for Key Plastics LLC's North American operations, running much of the day-to-day business as the company operated under Chapter 11 protection.
Carl C. Haas, whose family founded and had run Blue Water since 1954, is now chairman - a job he will hold for another two years and one that still will allow him an advisory capacity in the operations.
The family spoke with many suitors before signing a deal with Sarna, based in Sarnen, Switzerland, said Douglas Zurick, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Water. A year after completing the deal, all signs still look good, he said.
``I think they found the right buyer,'' he said.
Sarna has continued to support the company's growth, funding the purchase of the remaining shares of Campco de Mexico SA de CV in Tultitl n, Mexico, for an undisclosed amount. Blue Water had owned 40 percent of Campco, which injection molds, vacuum forms and extrudes components for the auto industry.
``That's another pretty clear signal that Sarna, as a group out of Switzerland, is willing to continue to invest in the North American auto industry,'' Chapple said.
Sarnamotive is the centerpiece of the restructured Sarna Group. The company has a variety of plastics-related productions, including packaging and thermoplastic membranes for roofs, pools and deck liners. It had some auto component production but lacked a specific focus on the industry until it bought Blue Water, Zurick said.
Last year the newly created Sarnamotive division was responsible for 40.7 percent of Sarna's sales of nearly 860 million Swiss francs ($498.2 million), with Blue Water's financial contribution starting July 1. This year the auto unit will make up more than half of the corporation's sales, easily standing as Sarna's biggest single division.
Chapple is a member of Sarna's executive committee, which meets monthly to discuss corporate operations. He also is working closely with his counterpart in Europe, Ralf Timm, head of Sarnamotive Europe, to seek out ways to share production trends and build cross-continent customer lists.
Blue Water wants to concentrate more on processing specialties as it moves to create a niche for itself, Zurick said.
``For the past couple of years, we've had strategic opportunities looking at moving away from the injection molding rank and file,'' he said.
It already has taken on work involving two-shot molding, insert molding, gas-assist production and other value-added operations, he said.
``That's one of the things in being a niche,'' Chapple said. ``Not trying to be all things to all customers.
``In the world of automotive plastics there's such a wide range. Our challenge is to find the focused niches where we think we can fit and make an impact.''