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

By 2007, the company had reached a milestone few black-owned enterprises achieve: the billion-dollar revenue mark. With sales of $1.3 billion, 1,100 employees in four assembly plants, and a strong product mix with foreign and domestic automakers as customers, Bridgewater was ranked the fourth largest black-owned business in the U.S. Three of Hall’s four sons work for the company: Roman, in Detroit; Erik, in Warren, Michigan; and Ronald Jr., who is known as Ron and serves as vice president and general counsel, also in Warren. Hall’s youngest son, Kahn, works at JCI’s design studio.

An Industry in Crisis
Business was good—until crisis hit the auto industry. Sales volumes declined as car buyers, concerned about the global financial meltdown, closed their purse strings. The effects rippled throughout the automotive supply chain. “My concern would be if our customer decided to shut their assembly plant,” says Hall. To effectively perform just-in-time manufacturing, Bridgewater’s facilities run in tandem with a given customer’s plant. If that facility shuts down, Bridgewater is effectively forced to follow suit. “We had to lay people off, which was painful,” Hall reflects. “We had to get leaner.”

For the company, it was a challenging time. “Before the crisis we had foreseen that Bridgewater needed to move away from its emphasis in manufacturing for light trucks to a portfolio that was more balanced between light trucks and small passenger cars,” says Ron. “We had begun to do some of that. The question in our minds was, had we done enough? Had we done it fast enough? Were the light truck sales going to hold? Were all the programs going to survive?”

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