Plastech Engineered Products Inc.'s estimated $290 million buyout of LDM Technologies Inc. puts Julie Nguyen Brown in a position she hates.
Brown is the founder and chief executive officer of Plastech in Dearborn, Mich. Her company's acquisition of LDM in Auburn Hills, Mich., in February makes Plastech one of the largest minority-owned auto suppliers in North America, and one of the top North American injection molders.
Plastech is projecting sales of $1.5 billion this year.
But don't expect Brown, who is a Vietnamese immigrant, to brag about the accomplishment. She rarely talks to the press.
Though colleagues describe her as strong-willed and persistent, Brown is the first to admit she's more comfortable behind the scenes. Or running 50 miles a week - her way of disciplining herself.
``If you're too visible, it means you just do things for the wrong reason, in my estimation,'' she said in an interview with Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News. ``You're selling yourself to the public, and that's not right. I'm not selling myself. I'm selling a project.''
Plastech specializes in interior plastic products such as seat back panels.
LDM added exterior plastic products, including fascias, to the portfolio. The combined company is one of the largest injection molders in North America. Its biggest customer is Ford Motor Co.
Plastech had $680 million in sales last year. LDM had about $425 million. The combined company has 5,900 employees.
Plastech's success has not gone unnoticed by other minority suppliers, some of which question whether the company has deserved all the contracts it has won and whether Brown really is calling the shots.
Because they rarely see her, the suppliers said, Brown is simply a front for Plastech's minority business certification from the National Minority Supplier Development Council. The certification can open doors for business. A company must have at least 51 percent minority ownership to be certified.
``The [original equipment manufacturers] wanted a billion-dollar minority supplier,'' said one black supplier, who asked not to be named. ``Where is the path of least resistance? They gave Julie Brown a lot of favorable situations. But who buys GM, Ford and Chrysler? Not Asians.''
Brown writes off such comments as jealousy.
``Of course, being a woman and a minority allowed me to have the doors opened,'' she said. ``But at the end of the day, it's all about performance.''
She does rely on her mostly Caucasian executive team to communicate with customers. But Plastech board member David Cole said: ``There's no doubt who the boss is in the company. Most suppliers would be jealous of Julie. She's very successful. She's an extremely hard worker.''
Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., described Brown as shy but very smart, highly energetic and a risk taker.
``Every time we have a board meeting, we have no idea what will be on the docket,'' he said. ``She thinks big thoughts.''
And Brown is persistent, Cole said. ``She's not one to take the first `no' for an answer,'' he said. ``She's not pushy in any way, but very strong-willed.''
Brown credits General Motors Corp. with giving her the first big break soon after she started her business 16 years ago.
``When I started out in business, I had no money, but GM saw something in me,'' she said. ``They made their first minority business loan to me. So they're the one, if I owe anyone, who set me in business.''
That $250,000 loan came at least three years before her first Ford contract, Brown said. Today, Ford represents 33 percent of Plastech's sales, followed by Tier 1 supplier Johnson Controls Inc., with 22 percent.
So how did she manage to build a $1 billion-plus company in 16 years?
The 54-year-old dreams big and doesn't get overwhelmed.
``It's the desire to succeed,'' Brown said. ``It drives me to pay attention to detail, to keep at it and find ways to do better.''
Brown left South Vietnam in 1967. But after graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans with a computer science degree, her visa was not renewed, so she returned to Vietnam.
The military situation there had deteriorated. One week before Saigon was captured by forces from the North in 1975, Brown received a call from her sister-in-law telling her to go to an airfield for evacuation by U.S. troops.
She returned to the United States and worked as a market analyst in California.
She later advanced through Ford's engineering ranks to become a product design manager of the front and rear bumper systems on F-series trucks.
While at Ford, Brown saw opportunities for competent auto suppliers, so she bought the troubled Dynaplast Corp., which she renamed Plastech Engineered Products Inc.
Brown received a master's degree in engineering in 1985 from Wayne State University in Detroit.
She's married to Jim Brown, the chief operating officer of her company. They live in Dearborn and have two children.
Although Julie Brown isn't visible in the supplier community, she's a self-proclaimed ``power broker'' behind the scenes.
``I donate a lot of money to a lot of organizations I believe in, like Alternatives for Girls, HAVEN,'' she said of Help Against Violent Encounters Now. ``Also, I give advice to a lot of organizations about what they should do to run a charitable organization.''
Brown sees herself as a mentor, but she didn't have one.
``Maybe I looked at people when I grew up and I knew what I didn't want to be,'' she said.
Brown expects Plastech to have at least $1.7 billion in sales in 2007. But she isn't bound by that number.
``Based on my drive to be the best, the company can be a billion [dollars], the company can be $5 billion, it can be $10 billion, because I never feel I have arrived,'' she said. ``There's nothing I cannot handle if it arises.''
Maybe that's another reason to run 50 miles a week.
``If you have a problem, you identify the problem before you run,'' Brown said. ``Like magic, after the run, in the shower, subconsciously you come up with the best solution.''