CLINTON — Last fall, Larry Johnson took over as director of Mississippi/Alabama Operations for Delphi Packard Electric Systems, a job he says that keeps him on the road — and on the telephone.
“Even though I’m stationed in Clinton, I’m also responsible for Mississippi facilities in Clinton and Brookhaven; Alabama facilities in Gadsden, Foley, Robertsdale and Tuscaloosa, and a plant in Duncan, S,C.,” Johnson said.
Faced with high product demand and low cost domestic competition, the Clinton plant was established in 1973 by Alabama native Dick Acker, who retired from GM after 33 years and recently retired from a second career as founder and chief of the Jackson Enterprise Center. Acker and his wife continue to live in Jackson.
The Clinton plant was originally built with 317,000 square feet, but plans were announced for an expansion after only a year. In 1977, the Brookhaven plant was built. Today, the Clinton operation is comprised of five plants with more than one million square feet of floor space. Before he retired, Acker had established a network of seven supplier plants around central Mississippi. In its 26-year history, Johnson is only the fourth director of operations.
“Our focus has been and continues to be on growth and technology, on satisfying customers and keeping them happy with good products and delivery on time,” Johnson said.
Originally a division of General Motors, Delphi Automotive Systems separated earlier this year to become a publicly-traded company. Delphi Packard is a division of Delphi Automotive, a diversified supplier of automotive components, systems, and modules, with more than 216,000 people in over 36 countries on its payroll.
“The transition from General Motors to Delphi Automotive Systems went exceedingly well,” Johnson said. “We have been blessed with the fact that a number of companies, as well as a number of other industries, have called us wanting to do business with us since we separated from the control of General Motors. That’s been the source of our greatest expansion.”
Providers of innovative solutions and expertise in the areas of chassis, steering, interiors, thermal, energy and engine management, electrical and electronic systems, Delphi Packard has a customer list that includes General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Mercedes, BMW and Boeing Aircraft. Some of the products produced at the Clinton facility include wiring for Cadillac and Corvette, fuseblocks for all GM cars made in North America, automotive electrical cable and electrical leads and metal terminals and plastic parts.
Delphi Packard, the 14th largest manufacturing employer in the state, contributing more than $205 million in payroll annually to the economy, has more than 2,000 employees in Mississippi. Approximately 1,500 employees are located at the Clinton plant and the remainder at the Brookhaven plant, all represented by the International Union of Electrical Workers.
“We’re about to do some hiring at both Mississippi facilities because business is doing well, because our customers are happy with us and because we’re starting to go into other industries than just the automotive industry,” he said. “We don’t have our arms around 100% of how many additional folks we’re going to need.”
In 1998, Delphi spent more than $205 million for the purchase of material and services from approximately 220 vendors in Mississippi.
“We’ll have about 50 new molding machines in Clinton in the next three months and that’s our basic drive for hiring new people,” Johnson said. “We’re the sole supplier for GMC-Chevy and pickup trucks. GM is expecting to have a great year not only in those categories, but for Suburbans and Tahoes that are coming up later this year.”
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Johnson received a degree in architecture from Howard University with the assistance of an ROTC scholarship. After serving four years in the U.S. Air Force, he went to work for GM in one of the Delphi divisions based in Buffalo, New York, he said.
“In 1976, just as I made captain in the (U.S.) Air Force, I decided to see what the outside world had to offer,” he said. “Now, 13 years later, I’ve got probably the best assignment I’ve had in my working career. I’m very pleased being in the great state of Mississippi. The community has been most helpful with transition here, particularly because I lost my wife 16 months ago. My two stepdaughters are grown and gone, educated and working, so I moved here by myself and hope to be here until retirement.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.