TRAVERSE CITY, MI – When he was General Motors’ global purchasing boss, Bo Andersson irrepressibly held suppliers’ feet to the fire.
Now, Andersson is on the supplier side, as president and CEO of Yazaki North and Central America and president of Yazaki Europe.
Addressing the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here, he says he’s nervous because “this is my first speech as a supplier.”
Andersson’s both-sides career path puts him in a position to offer advice to fellow suppliers on what automaker clients want. He ticks off those tips simply and straightforwardly.
“Having been in purchasing at GM, I can say if you have perfect quality, perfect launches, perfect service and perfect prices, it helps a lot,” he says. That draws laughter from the conference audience.
He gets a chuckle or two at other times, such as when he says, “If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be somewhere else having fun.” And: “This seems like the third day of a ski vacation.” That one draws a mild protest from CAR CEO Carla Bailo.
Yazaki is based in Japan, but 90% of its business is outside its home country. It is one of the world’s biggest automotive suppliers of wire harnesses, instrumentation and components.
In between joining Yazaki in 2017 and leaving GM in 2009 when it was in the throes of bankruptcy, Andersson was CEO of GAZ Group, a Russian producer of buses, commercial trucks and military vehicles.
Reflecting on business-government relations there, he says, “In Russia, strong mayors could help you fix a problem. Weak mayors couldn’t do anything.”
A native of Sweden, he started his career there more than three decades ago at now-defunct Saab. (A Chinese company now owns the Saab brand name.)
Bailo asks Andersson how he has adjusted to working at Yazaki. He gives a decidedly candid answer: “They are adjusting to me.”
Bailo says, “Does that mean you are changing the entire way of doing business there?”
He replies, “We’re a good Japanese company, but slow. We study, study, study and then finally do something. I do it the other way around.”
That seemingly iconoclastic approach somewhat defies his GM reputation as a purchasing chief with a near-supernatural grasp of quality control metrics and data spreadsheets.
Andersson understands his new role as a supplier. “Our customers are the car makers. They have opinions about what their customers want. We give them prototypes to play around with.”
He adds, “I’ve been in this business 31 years. It has never been as difficult. But the fundamentals are still there. If you do the right things, you will win. If you decide to do it, stick with it. Don’t give up. Work it out.”
He remains a hard-nosed businessman in different ways. “Every day, people knock on our door saying they’re a start-up company that would like us to be their wire- harness supplier. We say, ‘Do you have money?’ If not, we’re not interested.”