Detroit-based auto supplier Bridgewater Interiors, a BE INDUSTRIAL/ SERVICE 100 company, scored a major coup for minority businesses in March by winning a Ford Motor Co. contract worth more than $500 million annually. While Ford has the option to renew or break the contract each year, it’s a hardship for automakers to change suppliers in the middle of a vehicle production run, which typically lasts five to 10 years.
“It’s the largest deal that an original equipment manufacturer has given to a minority-owned company,” says E. Delbert Gray, president and CEO of the Michigan Minority Business Development Council.
Bridgewater Interiors will produce automotive seat systems for Ford’s F-150 pickup trucks, as well as the automaker’s Expedition and Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles. The seats will be built in a manufacturing plant Bridgewater Interiors opened in Warren, Michigan, in December 2003.
While Ford purchased $3.2 billion in goods and services from minority suppliers in 2003, Tony Brown, Ford’s vice president of global purchasing, says Bridgewater Interiors won the contract not because of its minority status but because of the quality work it produces. Companies bidding for the contract were evaluated by a team of Ford executives from various departments of the company, he says.
“This is not about altruism — it is about selecting a qualified supplier and, at the same time, helping to create wealth in a community that richly deserves that kind of empowerment,” Brown said in a statement. “And it is also about confidence. This facility will create seat systems for Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator — two of Ford Motor Co.’s most popular sport utility vehicles. And it will also create seat systems for Ford F-150, the best-selling model in our most popular vehicle line, ever. We do not entrust that sort of responsibility to just anyone.”
Bridgewater Interiors President and CEO Ron Hall says the scope of the deal will lead other companies to take a closer look at minority-owned firms.
“We like to think that we’re blazing trails for other minorities to get major contracts,” Hall says. The contract “proves that [major companies] have confidence that a minority company can handle a contract of this size and still deliver quality service just in time at a right price.”