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Delphi, in a transition, remains a great success story

As I See It

Early in its history, General Motors followed the strategy of gobbling up automotive manufacturing companies and, over the years, formed a huge conglomerate: Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, GMC trucks. Each “division” was operated as a standalone company and the divisions competed with each other. They also owned supplier companies that furnished component parts for the assembly lines; Packard, Delco-Remy and many others.

Times changed and the strategy changed too. Now GM has rearranged its operation in big ways. Oldsmobile will eventually be dropped from the product lineup altogether. Formerly captive suppliers have been spun off into independent companies and must now compete for GM’s business just like unrelated suppliers. And the formerly captive GM suppliers, like Packard and Delco, now sell their wares to GM competitors.

One of Mississippi’s major employers is Delphi Corporation, with manufacturing facilities in Clinton and Brookhaven. Delphi used to be Packard Electric, a wholly-owned division of General Motors. Packard has been untangled from GM and the stock made available to the public. Now the company’s stock is traded on the stock exchange, though GM is still the major shareholder.

I went out to visit Delphi several weeks ago to meet the director, Larry Johnson, and have a look around. Years ago I worked for a company that assembled automotive electrical components for Packard and thus was generally familiar with their operation. I wanted to see if there were any readily noticeable changes as a result of the separation from GM. So off to Clinton I went to see how things were going with the new arrangement.

Things are going very well indeed. Delphi is a very impressive operation. Their technology is state of the art and their people seem satisfied and highly motivated. Delphi’s primary products are plastic components and electric wires used in automotive electrical systems. And though General Motors continues to be a major customer, they also manufacture parts for BMW, Mack, Daimler Chrysler, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and even their previous rival, Ford.

The first Mississippi plant was built in Clinton in 1973. The Brookhaven facility followed in 1997. Today Delphi has over 1,600 employees in both locations, utilizing over 1.2-million square feet of space.

One of the most impressive things about Delphi is the positive attitude of their employees; apparent in the way they carry themselves and go about the jobs. Most, if not all, of their employees worked their way up from the bottom, without the benefit of a lot of education or a society orientated toward manufacturing. Their success, and their obvious pride in their success, is apparent even to the casual observer. These are Mississippians who started modestly and, over time, have advanced to good paying jobs. Their workplace is clean, neat and well organized. Truly an example of the job our people can do when given guidance, training and opportunity.

Delphi’s emphasis on safety speaks volumes about the company’s concern for their employees. Before I began my tour of the plant, I was given a pair of plastic safety glasses and encouraged to wear them at all times when on the manufacturing floor. Plant managers Rich Del Signore and Arnie Senger were gracious in showing me the workings of the plants. I’m no technogeek, but I know high-tech when I see it and I saw it at Delphi.

Community involvement is serious business at Delphi. Combined employee and employer donations to the local United Way exceed $100,000 annually. Delphi has adopted two local elementary schools and, last year, Delphi employees raised $22,000 and built a home through Habitat for Humanity. This is the kind of citizen every community would treasure.

What’s ahead for Delphi? Though the company has suffered several setbacks recently when Nissan selected another supplier for their electrical systems and, likewise, Corvette changed to another supplier, the future is bright. The company is actively marketing itself to new prospective customers and expects to expand its offerings as circumstances dictate. The freedom to set their own course without the yoke of being a General Motors captive opens up all kinds of new avenues. I asked Larry if they would get another chance at Nissan. He said the contract would be re-bid after three years and Delphi intends to sharpen their pencil and get the business.

Mississippi success stories abound and none more exciting than the Delphi story. The management is capable, the facilities are modern and well maintained and the people exude confidence and self-respect and the company has an obvious commitment to the community. What more can one hope for?

Thought for the Moment — Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. — Luke 6:37

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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