Assembly Required (Industrial/Service Company of the Year)

Surviving a company-wrecking economy and its CEO’s illness, Bridgewater Interiors retools for future growth and profitability

A Partnership Is Formed
Automotive interior companies bid on new business three years or so before vehicles come to market. In the late 1990s, JCI competed with Lear Corp. and Magna International for a new Cadillac DeVille model that would be built in nearby Hamtramck, Michigan. JCI knew of GM’s support of diversity, and its management believed that the likelihood of landing the business would increase if it partnered with a strong minority-owned business. “Ron Hall Sr. was a great partner who provided a differentiated advantage,” says Jeff Williams, JCI’s group vice president who also serves on Bridgewater’s board of directors. To facilitate the joint venture, Hall and his partners formed a holding company in 1999. After working out the terms, Bridgewater was born. None of the partners in Epsilon, which include retired NFL defensive end Willie Davis and William F. Pickard, are involved in Bridgewater’s day-to-day operations. Pickard is also CEO of Global Automotive Alliance L.L.C. (No. 14 on the be industrial/service companies list with $275 million in revenues).

As a black-owned entity that owns the majority stake in the joint venture, Bridgewater qualifies as a minority-owned enterprise. “In my opinion, the minority designation was the tiebreaker,” says Hall. With an initial five-year, $900 million contract to be the exclusive provider of seats for Cadillac DeVille, and a publicly traded global giant in their corner, Bridgewater secured financing to construct a 125,000-square-foot assembly plant in Detroit’s Empowerment Zone—an area targeted for federally supported urban revitalization. “We extended the line of credit to cover our startup costs,” he recalls. “But, were it not for our 49% partner in Johnson Controls … I won’t say we wouldn’t get it, but it certainly made the terms a lot better.”

Bridgewater is what’s known as a just-in-time supplier. So it must locate its plants near, meaning within 30 miles of, the manufacturing facilities of its automotive clients in order to deliver product in a matter of hours—“just in time” for the components to be installed in a vehicle. As its business grew, Bridgewater opened plants in Oxford, Alabama, in 2003; Warren, Michigan, in 2004; and Lansing, Michigan, in 2006.

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