Key Safety Systems Inc. is seeking a new CEO even as it inches closer to finalizing a $1.59 billion deal to acquire embattled Japanese airbag supplier Takata Corp.
Jason Luo, Key's leader for 10 years, was named Aug. 23 as the new chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Co.'s Ford China group. He will lead all of the Dearborn, Mich.-based company's operations in China.
Luo, 51, will officially join Ford China on Sept. 1.
Jeff Wang, chairman of Sterling Heights, Mich.-based Key Safety's parent company Ningbo Joyson Electronics, said in an internal memo sent to employees Aug. 23 that he will now serve as executive chairman of Key Safety, and board director Yuxin Tang will assume the role of interim president.
The supplier is already searching for Luo's permanent replacement; internal and external candidates will be considered, the memo said.
Despite the loss of its top executive, the company remains on track to finalize the deal to acquire Takata and is expected to sign a formal agreement in the coming weeks, Ron Feldeisen, senior vice president of global sales and marketing, confirmed in an email.
As the CEO search commences, an interim structure has been put in place, according to the memo. Working to close the Takata deal are: Joe Perkins, chief financial officer; Mark Decker; global head of human resources; Greg Heald, head of Asia; and Feldeisen.
The interim leadership running day-to-day operations is: Mark Wehner, chief technology officer; Tony Nardone, head of the Americas; Andreas Brand, head of Europe; and Jay Phillion, head of global quality.
Tokyo-based Takata is a global auto safety systems giant, with an estimated $5.9 billion in sales to automakers in 2016. However, a massive recall involving injuries related to faulty airbags has forced the company into bankruptcy and Key Safety has been tapped to buy the majority of the assets.
Takata's malfunctioning airbag inflators, which have sent shards of metal into drivers and passengers and are linked to at least 17 deaths globally, have plagued it for more than eight years.
With pressure mounting, the 84-year-old Takata filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan and its U.S. subsidiary, Auburn Hills-based TK Holdings Inc., filed for Chapter 11 protection in Delaware on June 25 in a prepackaged agreement to sell to Key Safety, which beat out nearly a half dozen competitors.
Under the deal, Key Safety's management vows to maintain Takata's 45,000-person employment base, with the exception of its problematic ammonium nitrate airbag inflator business, which is expected to end operation after the sale.
The acquisition will make Key Safety one of the largest players in the safety market, with more than 60,000 employees in 23 countries and more than $7 billion in total sales.
Airbags use plastics extensively, in housings and functional parts.