Executive Interview with Keith Wilson, Vice President and General Manager, Affinia Under Hood Group

Monday, 11 April 2005

Every other week, aftermarketNews.com offers an interview with high-profile individuals in the automotive aftermarket. We give executives free rein to express their views on anything from the state of their corporations to recent legislative news to future trends in their niche markets. Here you see what matters to the newsmakers themselves.

Our latest Executive Interview features Keith Wilson, former Dana employee and current vice president and general manager for Affinia's Under Hood Group. Read on as he brings us up to speed on the transition from Dana AAG to the newly created Affinia. Wilson also talks about the recent sale of Beck/Arnley and the future for the aftermarket industry.

Tell us about your career and specifically your aftermarket background?

In the fall of 2004, I was appointed vice president and general manager for Affinia’s Under Hood Group. I was extremely excited about the opportunity. I had already been vice president and general manager of WIX Global Filtration Products since 2000, so to add the additional responsibility for Quinton Hazell, Affinia’s European operations, I was thrilled.

As you all know, Affinia was created from the divestiture of Dana’s Automotive Aftermarket Group. The transition to Affinia has been refreshing and exciting. We now have the ability to focus on the needs of our customers, our brands, and our company as a whole.

Prior to my role at WIX, I spent the majority of my career with Dana Corporation. I started out as a sales and marketing specialist in Fort Wayne, Ind. In 1987, I moved to the Spicer axle plant in Columbia, Mo., and held positions of purchasing specialist, third shift supervisor, EIM coordinator and scheduler. I also held the positions of production control manager at the Spicer Driveshaft Division plant in Lima, Ohio, and plant manager at the Spicer Heavy Axle and Brake Division in Hilliard, Ohio.

In the 1990’s, I served as resident manager, general manager and vice president of the Spicer Trailer Products Division, and also served as vice president and general manager of the Victor Reinz Division. As you can see, I’ve worked in various roles throughout my career. I’ve worked in both the OEM and aftermarket business, and I am very pleased to remain in the aftermarket. The aftermarket is one of the biggest industries today -- also one of the most complex. I’ve always loved a challenge, so I find the aftermarket incredibly interesting.

How has the change from Dana to Affinia and the Cypress Group been going?

Given the way the transaction happened between the Cypress Group and Dana, there was ample time for our management team to get to know the Cypress Group. The transition to Affinia is going great. Throughout Affinia we have developed key action items and time lines that facilitate the move away from Dana-provided services. It involves a lot of hard work, communication and teamwork across our organization. We are changing everything in the way of signs, stationery, packaging and forms.

As far as the Cypress Group is concerned, things are going really well. They have been supportive of Affinia and our plans to grow and improve our business. We are thrilled to have new owners excited about our aftermarket business and willing to invest in our future.

What has been the response of your customers to the sale and the changes?

In a word, fantastic! We are aware several eyes within the aftermarket were fixed on our group as we went through the divestiture process with Dana. Knowing that the Cypress Group had sought the help of industry veterans like Larry McCurdy and Joe Onorato certainly put our customers at ease. Throughout the process our management team stayed close to customers and kept them informed as changes were announced. The people from Cypress have taken the time to understand our business and have given us the ability to “do the right thing” for the business. Today we are an aftermarket company, run by aftermarket people, fully committed to our aftermarket customers.

How have your employees responded to the changes?

After being on the block for almost a year, our people were ready for a change. We make our living in the automotive parts business, one of the most competitive markets around. Our people know that in this business change is a way of life and we must continue to make the necessary changes to compete in today’s global market.

Overall, our people are responding to Affinia’s new direction in a positive way. Of course, communication is key. At Affinia, we are keeping it real simple. We are focusing on three areas: our people, our customers and our performance. Everything we do is designed to support improvements in these three areas.

One of the companies you were responsible for was Beck/Arnley. Why did Affinia sell Beck/Arnley and what do you foresee as the Beck/Arnley’s future?

When you look at the model for the vast majority of our business, it differs greatly from that of Beck/Arnley. At its peak, Beck/Arnley was independently run and was completely focused on the import nameplate market. Over the years, Echlin, then Dana tried to fit Beck/Arnley into its manufacturing-rich business model, but didn’t succeed because the business was just too different from that of a basic manufacturer. Affinia’s strengths are in manufacturing and distribution. Beck/Arnley’s strengths are in global sourcing of finished goods and distribution. This separation will allow Beck/Arnley to return to what it does best. Beck/Arnely President Max Dull has a great team, they are well funded and everyone at Affinia believes they will have a bright future.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing you and the Affinia Under Hood Group in the next few years?

For the future, our biggest challenges will be centered around becoming more of a global company. We plan to expand our sales by growing in new developing countries and by investing in regions that provide a competitive cost base.

Does WIX plan on introducing any new products in the next few years?

WIX has a long history of being a leader in application coverage for filtration products, and I do not see a change in that strategy. Recent innovations in vehicle filtration, such as cabin air filters, have created new opportunities in the filtration market. WIX will continue to diligently work to bring these new innovations to the aftermarket first. The industry has seen a surge in alternative fuel and diesel powered passenger cars and light trucks. In Europe, almost 50 percent of the vehicle parc consists of these vehicles. Our global exposure to these applications will help us maintain our first to market strategy as we see more domestic registrations.

What are some issues that you believe face the aftermarket as a whole in the next five years?

I believe we will continue to see today’s trends increase at light speed. Consolidation, technology and the increased pressure from OE dealers will have a considerable impact on our market over the next five years. There doesn’t seem to be an end to the consolidation throughout the industry. With organic growth at a minimum, significant gains in market share will have to come through acquisition. Technology will play a more important role than ever in our business. We have seen the early adopters use technology to eliminate waste in the distribution model and increase customer loyalty. Lastly, OE dealers will continue to seek business from independent repair channels. It will be more important than ever to differentiate ourselves from the competition. We must continue to seek engineering improvements to OE designs that do not sacrifice fit and form, but provide advantages in functionality or ease of installation.