His first day as chief executive officer of Collins & Aikman Corp., Jerry Mosingo walked the building superintendent to the door separating the wood-lined executive offices from the cubicles filling the rest of the firm's Troy headquarters.
Mosingo asked him to open the door. The superintendent pointed out that Mosingo's key card now would open the door for him anytime. You don't understand, Mosingo said.
``You open that door and it stays open, all the time,'' Mosingo said. ``In the past, this area was somewhat off limits to most people, but I said no. That part of the corporation is over.''
The door was blocked open, and remains open as Mosingo closes his eighth month as CEO of the nearly $4 billion automotive interior specialist.
Collins & Aikman is into its second full year as a combined entity taking in the plastics, carpet, fabric and convertible top systems that were four separate companies at the start of 2001. It has struggled financially - posting $53.5 million in losses for 2002 on sales of $3.8 billion - but is improving, executives maintain, with a solid business plan and an increasingly integrated operation.
This year the company and its new management team must prove it can survive, even with production slowing in the auto industry. Analysts have called C&A's business outlook stable, but also warn that it could tip into the negative column easily.
The firm had $56.9 million worth of restructuring costs in 2002 and $18.8 million in restructuring for 2001. It now must show that its core business plan will bring new sales, and that Mosingo - originally recruited by former CEO Tom Evans for his manufacturing expertise - can translate that throughout the corporation.
To create a globally organized firm working on the same manufacturing principles worldwide, the company shook up its European offices to have factories there report straight to Troy. It closed more than a half-dozen facilities and reconfigured its sales base to present one corporate face representing a cross-section of materials and processes to automakers.
And it has done so, insiders said, without a clash of egos.
``The very first thing I had to consider was the team, setting their minds at ease and seeing how we were going to run the corporation together,'' Mosingo said during an April 8 interview in Troy.
On paper, Mosingo seems an unlikely candidate to run a Fortune 500 company - C&A ranked 411 on the magazine's annual list this year. He started his career as an hourly worker for Ford Motor Co. before beginning a gradual climb into management ranks. His formal post-high-school education is a two-year degree in industrial technology.
He spent 20 years at Ford before moving to the supplier industry, ending up at Textron Inc.'s automotive unit. There he embraced lean manufacturing principles, helping to lead its plastics operations to national recognition for manufacturing.
When C&A began its due diligence of Textron's holdings in advance of a 2001 purchase of its plastics-heavy trim unit, leaders for the corporation and its largest shareholder - financial group Heartland Industrial Partners - also had the chance to check out Mosingo and his team.
He joined C&A as executive vice president of global operations, assigned to bring the lean manufacturing incentives created for Textron to the rest of C&A's plastics units.
A year ago Mosingo was busy implementing manufacturing standards through C&A's North American plants, while Evans talked of further growth plans for the corporation.
But by August Evans was out, following a reverse stock split that took the shares from about $5 up to $28, briefly - before it plummeted to $2.
Mosingo maintains he does not know the full history leading to Evans' departure. The call he received from Heartland's David Stockman and Dan Treadwell took him by surprise.
``They started talking to me about the state of the company and what they wanted to do going forward,'' Mosingo said. ``They said they had found a CEO who would fit into exactly what they wanted the company to be, and my response was, `That's great, I can't wait to meet that guy,' and they said: `You're him.'
``I said: `You remember who you're talking to, right?' ''
With the announcement, C&A began to reshape itself under a new chief with a history of creating and fostering a united atmosphere.
``I took the management team to dinner on that first night and I told them that I was not going to demand things of them,'' Mosingo said. ``I'm not going to sit there and dictate what we're doing.
``But there are two rules that we will live by. When we decide as a management team what we are going to do, when we make a decision and we walk out that door, we will support that decision as a team. The second rule is that we will respect each other.''
There is a new atmosphere at the company, executives said. Mosingo, who loved going out onto shop floors, gave up his covered parking space in Troy, reasoning that if 700 other people at the headquarters complex must park outside, then so will he. He sometimes swings through the employee cafeteria to pick up something to eat - whereas the previous management group stuck to the executive quarters.
``The excitement level, the intensity level went up progressively with Jerry,'' said Michael Stepp, a one-time Heartland executive who now is vice chairman and chief financial officer.
Mike Mitchell, president of global commercial operations, had worked alongside Mosingo first at Textron, then at C&A, where they were on the same level in the chain of command before the August decision to boost Mosingo.
``Normally, that might be a situation that could create conflict,'' Mitchell said. ``But he's an excellent, excellent leader. He inspires all of us.
``Jerry is a coach. He's a teacher, he's not a dictator. It's much different. Frankly, I'm enjoying the hell out of this, and frankly, I'm learning more about my own management style from him.''
But excitement does not guarantee success.
Collins & Aikman still is walking a financial tightrope. It has more than $1.5 billion in long-term debts. Its stock price has recovered from a low of $2 in the days after the management change to hover at $4-$5, but it has not budged beyond that.
The firm is facing a spate of class-action lawsuits filed by lawyers known for seeking reimbursement due to decreased share prices.
The company currently is listed as stable, but easily could tip into negative territory if North American production dips excessively, Standard & Poor's analyst Martin King warned. And the auto industry is expecting a slowdown in manufacturing.
The operations did appear to stabilize in the last quarter of 2002, he said, and the firm's current liquidity looks good, but it still has that heavy debt load.
``We will be monitoring C&A,'' he said.
Company insiders maintain the switch has solidified C&A's operations, allowing a steady flow not only of sales and manufacturing data, but also operations standards that bring the European factories into line with the lean production and quality techniques used throughout the firm's holdings.
A best-practices intranet established under Mosingo's tenure allows each division to share cost-saving information quickly and easily, Mitchell said. If an engineer working on a project for Ford Motor Co. discovers a new way to produce a glove-box latch that saves the company money on that vehicle, that information is circulated electronically throughout the corporation.
It stands to reason, Mitchell said, that the same process will save money on glove boxes produced for DaimlerChrysler AG or General Motors Corp. or Honda Motor Co. Ltd.
Stepp's financial guidance for 2003 anticipates profit and earnings for the year, although he has not specified precise amounts. The company has not disclosed first-quarter sales and earnings numbers yet.
And while Evans is not at C&A any longer, the business plan put together under his tenure is strong, Mosingo said. Marrying the breadth of manufacturing and material operations available within C&A - from carpet to fabrics to the mix of plastics in cockpits and door panels - with the quality and manufacturing assurances available through the operating system is bringing the company new business.
Lean manufacturing makes a difference, Mosingo said. It creates a company more capable of responding to fluctuations in production, without suffering from excess costs or quality concerns
During the past eight months, he has gone to customers and analysts alike, ready to convince them that C&A has the production capabilities its competitors cannot match
In the past six months, C&A launched production of the instrument panel, center console and door trim components for the Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle; the instrument panel, center console, carpet, mats, cargo system and seat fabrics on Chrysler's new Pacifica; and the cockpit, console, doors, carpet, accessory mats and acoustic system on Ford's Lincoln Aviator.
It won new business for an unspecified Honda vehicle and recently won a contract to supply the acoustics, cockpit, instrument panel, door trim, interior trim, package tray, trunk tray, carpet and even the seat fabric on a future vehicle. The company cannot disclose the vehicle name yet.
``I talk about manufacturing a lot because at the end of the day, that's where you're going to be able to make the money,'' Mosingo said. ``We're in every plant with the same lean principles, the same operating system measureables, the same process.
``I have no doubt in my mind, no doubt, that this company will be a leader in this industry and that we will meet and exceed all expectations."