Auto Supplier Symposium Set

April 18, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The automotive industry is notorious for its swift changes in production, supply and demand, and manufacturing guidelines. Second and third tier suppliers are often caught in the midst of these changes, which can be costly. By putting industry leaders and West Michigan suppliers together, even if for one day, a symposium hosted by Grand Valley State University and Comerica Bank on Thursday, April 21, aims to jumpstart a cost-effective dialogue that can empower even the smallest of suppliers.

Current challenges facing the automotive industry and its suppliers will take center stage at the symposium through a panel of four speakers and question-and-answer sessions.

“It is a difficult climate right now for all suppliers, whether they are Tier 1, 2 or 3, and the automotive industry and its suppliers are very closely linked,” said Marti Benedetti, public affairs representative for Ford Motor Co.

Over the last 18 months, the cost of raw materials such as steel and resin has increased sharply, said Tom Stritzinger, vice president of corporate banking for Comerica.

“The result is plastic injection and stamping suppliers have faced real challenges and they have had real trouble passing these increases onto their customers.”

Other trends in the industry, noted Stritzinger, are an increased focus on sustainable economics and profitability. Expanding manufacturing operations into foreign markets like Canada and Mexico also continues to permeate the industry.

Comerica’s involvement in the symposium is a natural fit for the bank, which has a large automotive customer base, said Scott Hibbard, vice president of international trade. During the symposium similar companies in West Michigan will have the opportunity to network and learn from one another. In the past, Hibbard said, new business deals have even been launched during the one-day gathering.

“Certainly a lot of networking takes place. One year I had a client with excess capacity in Europe and he met someone that was looking to move into Europe,” said Hibbard.

This year the symposium will include more than networking and inside tips on success. For the first time a leader from a major Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will serve as the keynote speaker. The symposium will open with an address by Jeffrey Engel, executive director of American production purchasing operations for Ford.

Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame, Engel has been responsible for all production procurement and supply activities for vehicles in Ford’s U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America and AutoAlliance operations since 2004.

Engel’s address, said Benedetti, will provide suppliers with inside tips on current trends in the industry from the perspective of a purchasing agent that can help second and third tier operations grow and succeed.

“This event will give Ford the opportunity to explain to the suppliers why it puts some of the pressure on them,” said Stritzinger.

A rare look inside the mind of an OEM, Hibbard described the keynote address as “a conversation that would take place over a desk between an OEM and a supplier, that will take place in a larger format.”

Other speakers at the symposium will tackle current trends in the supply industry from a firsthand perspective, sharing tips and personal experience.

Craig Fitzgerald, director of automotive supplier strategy services with Plante & Moran PLLC, will follow Engel’s keynote address with a discussion detailing the steps necessary to transform a supply chain into a profit through goals and differentiation strategies.

Van Conway, co-founder of MacKenzie and Dunleavy, will also address the symposium backed with 30 years of experience in litigation support, restructuring and reorganization of automotive-related companies.

The final discussion of the symposium will take place with Tim Masek, chairman of Fuel System LLC, who will translate the recent past of his company into real-life tips on going from the red to the black.

With little more than 250 seats available, Lindsey Gorsline, global resource specialist with the Van Andel Global Trade Center, expects the symposium to sell out. Registration is $150 a person for the event, which takes place from 7:30 a.m.-noon on April 21. The Automotive Suppliers Symposium will be hosted in the Loosemore Auditorium, 401 W. Fulton St., on the Robert C. Pew Campus of Grand Valley State University.

For registration information, visit or phone (616) 331-6811.    

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