Julie Nguyen Brown, a Vietnamese immigrant who founded and presided over what was once the largest minority-owned U.S. auto supplier, Plastech Engineered Products Inc., has died.
A private service for Brown took place Tuesday at Sacred Heart Church in Dearborn, Mich., with Howe-Peterson Funeral Home & Cremation Services handling arrangements.
The family did not release an obituary with information on the date of her death, age or surviving relatives. She was born in 1950 and moved to the U.S. from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, according to an Automotive News story from 2004.
In 1988, Brown founded Plastech in Dearborn after beginning her career as a product design engineer at Ford Motor Co. The company made several major acquisitions over the years as it accumulated more contracts with automakers in the U.S.
It became a major force in automotive plastics through a series of acquisitions and contract deals that saw it become the top plastics molder for Tier 1 supplier Johnson Controls Inc. Plastech stood out both as the largest majority minority-owned auto supplier and one of the largest female-owned companies in the auto industry.
At its height in 2007, Plastech generated sales of $1.4 billion, the bulk of that coming from injection molding. Plastics News ranked Plastech as the sixth largest injection molder in North America, with sales estimated at $1.3 billion. It employed about 13,500 people at 40 plants.
But by February 2008, just months before the U.S. auto market began crashing at the start of the Great Recession, its story had changed.
Plastech filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after its fourth largest customer, Chrysler LLC, wanted to cancel business. A subsequent court dispute with Chrysler over ownership of its tooling ensued, and the company's assets were eventually sold off to other suppliers such as Johnson Controls and Magna International.
In recent years, Brown continued to operate Plastech Holding Corp., or PHC, a “virtual” company, according to its website. The firm provided its clients in North America, South America and the Middle East with a “critical competitive advantage” in areas such as engineering, styling, pricing and market intelligence on key competitors, the website says.
Brown held a master's degree in engineering from Wayne State University and a bachelor's degree from Tulane University.
She was a director of the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Business Roundtable and had served as nonexecutive director of Sunningdale Precision Industries in Singapore, according to Bloomberg Business.
She also was a trustee at Brown University in Rhode Island from 2003 to 2009. Two of her children attended the university as undergraduate students. The Julie Nguyen Brown Professor of Computational and Mathematical Sciences was named for her.