Perreault Focuses Gill

April 2, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Richard Perreault held a number of executive level positions with international automotive industry leaders before joining Gill Industries as president and COO in January 2005. Gill Industries is not as well known as the heavy hitters he previously worked for, but according to Perreault, the company will be well known soon.

A native of Canada, Perreault moved to the states in 1983. He graduated from General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, with a bachelor’s degree in industrial administration/finance, and subsequently earned a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Michigan.

Perreault said when he came aboard, Gill Industries was not as financially driven and focused as it ought to have been. The automotive industry has low margins, so a company that’s not financially focused, as well as quality- and people-focused, eventually will go out of business, he said.

“This company was profitable, but if nothing changed, it was not going to be profitable for very, very long because it’s automotive,” he recalled. “In the end it’s all about the money. For a company to remain in business, especially in automotive, you have to be financially strong.”

Perreault loves challenges and that’s reflected in the career path he has taken. His experience includes serving as CFO of Cignet LLC; as CEO and managing director of Metzeler Automotive Profile Systems-France; as president and CEO of Lear Donnelly Overhead Systems LLC; as general manager of future development at Magna International; as an industrial engineer for General Motors; and as a general accountant and purchasing agent for National Auto Radiator Manufacturing Co. Over the years, he has had a hand in developing and implementing a wide variety of business strategies, such as mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, turnarounds, cost-reducing measures, performance-enhancing measures and operational restructuring.

His experience at Magna was especially eye-opening, he recalled. When he joined Magna, the company was just forming an interior trim division, and he was put in charge of all merger and acquisition activities in the division.

“It was a real learning experience,” he said. “Magna has a great entrepreneurial philosophy. You’re on your own, so you have to get it done yourself. No one is going to come and help you out. That philosophy got me away from that General Motors mold. GM is a great company, but it didn’t have the entrepreneurial spirit, at least not when I was there. Magna was probably the best move I ever made. It changed my way of thinking, and I learned how to run a business.”

Perreault has set an impressive track record in his 15 months with Gill Industries. Under his leadership, Gill has truly gone global. The company established a presence in Europe this year with the Jan. 2 opening of a sales and engineering office in The Netherlands, a move Perreault said put Gill Industries on the map with its customers and marked its first step toward becoming a global supplier of precision assemblies and stamped metal products. The company specializes in mechanism design and development for the automotive, office furniture and utility vehicle industries.

The company bolstered its presence as an international supplier just a few weeks later after purchasing a seat frame and tube plant in Mexico from automotive parts supplier Johnson Controls.

A company the size of Gill Industries needs to be global, but global doesn’t mean building plants all over the world, it means having a global focus, Perreault said. The office in The Netherlands is located in the city of Hellendoorn and presently has a staff of three.

He said the company needed a presence in Europe in order to grow globally. He has a three- to five-year vision for Gill Industries-Europe.

“My intent was to at least show a presence in sales and marketing and start calling on some of the customers that do business over there. Short term, we’ll service that industry from here, but mid- to long-terms, we know we’re going to have to have a manufacturing presence somewhere in Eastern Europe.”

Gill took possession of the Mexican plant in late February. With the acquisition, the company added new manufacturing processes and a couple of new product lines to its mix. Gill inherited the management team and plant employees, along with the operation’s wire and tube bending processes that are used in the manufacture of automotive and office furniture seating. Gill Industries intends to transfer some of the wire and tube bending technology over to its plants in Grand Rapids and Georgia to grow its business even further.

Gill not only got a world-class plant in the deal, it got a world-class team, Perreault noted. He said the focus now is on adding more business in Mexico. Some new business is coming on line in the next two to three months, he noted. He anticipates the Mexico plant will be running at full capacity in 12 to 18 months.

“We have a great team. It’s not me doing all this. I provide the leadership, but without the great team around me, there is no way we would have accomplished what we have accomplished in the last 12 to 14 months. Hopefully, my management style lets people grow and become more professional.”

There is going to be tremendous growth in central Mexico, he noted. Nissan has increased production in central Mexico, and Toyota and Volkswagen also are planning to increase production there.

“All these OEMs that have been stagnant in Mexico for the past three to five years, in the past three or four months have announced increased production. So we’ll be there and we’ll have a pretty strong foothold in that arena. We will also focus on non-automotive because we want to lower our dependence on automotive.”

He envisions Gill Industries as a half-a-billion-dollar company 10 years down the road. As he sees it, even if something happens to the economy, Gill will be in a position to be the last company standing.

“What motivates me is seeing the transformation this company is going through and seeing employees grasping what we’re trying to do. There have been some great times with Gill over the last year. Today, everyone is very motivated. I challenge them and I give them autonomy, as well.

“When you walk into this facility, the overall image is professional. The plants are similar — they’re orderly, clean and near world-class,” he remarked. “The employees are engaged. And the family wants this business run professionally. A lot of companies don’t run this way, and that was really the clincher for me. Our customers come back, and that’s basically the best compliment you can get.”

In North America, Gill Industries supplies stamped products and welded assemblies to customers such as Johnson Controls, General Motors, Herman Miller, Continental Teves, Steelcase, Magna and Bosch. The company employs about 720 people in its two U.S. manufacturing facilities. It posted sales of $123 million in 2005.

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