The new owners of Pilot Industries Inc. are in high gear, introducing themselves to automakers and pushing forward with plans to bring new fuel-system technology to market.
Cerberus Partners LP, a New York financial group that specializes in taking over troubled companies, bought the assets of Pilot out of bankruptcy Jan. 31 and named Morris Rowlett chairman, chief executive officer and president. It likewise has brought in a new management team, but retained key technology experts.
``We're going to expand,'' Robert Eckert, executive vice president-administration and chief financial officer, said in a March 20 telephone interview. ``During the bankruptcy, a lot of cutbacks were done within research and development.''
Some expansion will come through organic growth; future growth also may come from acquisitions, using Pilot as a platform.
``Our main goal is to fix what we have, but we're going to keep an eye out,'' Eckert said.
A pioneer in multilayer plastic fuel hoses, Dexter, Mich.-based Pilot opened in 1977 and became a global supplier of fuel and brake lines and composite heat shields. By late 2000 it had developed a complete fuel system, joining its hoses and connectors to a hydroformed steel tank - but the company suffered from the cost of competing and ramping up for new production.
Pilot filed Dec. 10 for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, as part of the planned sale of its assets to Cerberus. Pilot had more than $50 million in secured and unsecured debts. It had posted sales of $287 million in its last fiscal year, but also saw losses of $12.7 million.
Previous owner Robert Davis remains with the new Pilot, as vice chairman of strategic engineering. Other key members remaining include Phil Zisakis, as senior vice president of sales and engineering, and Mark Krupp as executive vice president of operations.
Rowlett and his management team, meanwhile, will oversee fiscal performance and support future growth.
He previously was CEO of Ganton Technologies Inc., a Cerberus-supported aluminum die maker operating in the auto industry that was sold to Intermet Corp. of Troy, Mich., in 1999. He also serves on the board of safety-belt supplier Breed Technologies Inc., which emerged from Chapter 11 about a year ago.
Rowlett was an adviser during Cerberus' behind-the-scenes bid to take over troubled automotive supplier Key Plastics LLC - an effort that failed when Key was purchased by fellow investment company Carlyle Group.
Since the new management team moved in, Pilot has won contracts with Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, while General Motors Corp. - which pulled business from Pilot last year - is allowing Pilot to bid on new programs, Eckert said.
``[Rowlett] has a good reputation in the industry,'' Eckert said. ``He knows a lot of the key players. He brings a long-standing reputation of fixing troubled assets.''