To make matters worse, in 2007 doctors had discovered a brain tumor attached to the nerve ending of Hall’s right eye. Although it was benign, the CEO spent six months out of the office recovering, leaving Ron, who had joined the company two weeks after his father’s surgery, to keep the ship afloat. “It was a little bit more of a trial by fire in those initial months than I’d anticipated, because he wasn’t here to help shepherd my entrance,” Ron recalls. “Fortunately, I have a solid, collaborative relationship with Chief Operating Officer Barima Opong-Owusu, and between the two of us, with the support of all the executive management at JCI and Bridgewater’s board of managers, we were able to get through it, I think, pretty successfully.”
The lower volume in the auto industry and devastating impact on the supply chain forced Bridgewater’s management to make tough choices and to restructure. Those choices included making temporary shift reductions at several plant locations that reflected customer schedules. “We adjusted our shifts to meet our customer requirements,” says Opong-Owusu. “Because we are just-in-time suppliers, if our customer cuts down to just one shift, we go down to one shift. We must be in sequence.” The company also reduced its discretionary spending, such as for travel and entertainment; eliminated the printing of color copies; and ensured that all printouts were double-sided to reduce paper consumption.
As gas prices fell in 2008, Bridgewater’s management team cautiously forecast that demand for light trucks and SUVs would return. GM and Chrysler’s emergence from bankruptcy, the subsequent increase in auto sales, and Bridgewater’s customers bringing new products to market gave Hall & Co. another boost. “Slowly that gave us confidence that we would be OK. We didn’t project returning to profitability until fiscal year 2010, but we did it after one year,” says Ron. “The volume recovery combined with the aggressive cost management that we had implemented at the outset of the crisis really stabilized us in that second year.”
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