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Brose North America Nurtures Innovation

Executive Summary

The supplier’s top U.S. executive credits much of the company’s success to a strategy of nurturing new thinking, but reminds that “innovation is not innovation until it produces sales.”

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Jan Kowal was listed as president of Brose North America for his session at the Management Briefing Seminars here, but he really has been chairman since Aug.1.

Brose, a German-based manufacturer of components such as full door systems, has its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI. The North American division employs 4,000 people at eight U.S. locations.

Kowal says he’ll remain on in a variety of roles after overseeing a tenfold increase in revenue since he assumed the presidency in 1999: $90 million that year to nearly $1 billion today.

He credits much of the success to a strategy of nurturing new thinking at Brose NA, but reminds that “innovation is not innovation until it produces sales.”

Brose was instrumental in developing window mechanisms that power up as well as down, and seat structures that have been reduced in weight from 66 lbs. (30 kg) to 33 lbs. (15 kg) since the late 1990s.

In the area of occupant safety, Brose designed an adaptive 4-way head restraint that uses sensors to pivot into place in the event of a rear collision to prevent whiplash and other serious neck injuries.

The supplier also has extended beyond its core competence in doors and windows to include electric power-steering, which he predicts eventually “will fully replace hydraulic systems.”

Kowal cites how innovations can work for global suppliers. Brose NA led development of a recent generation of power-seating mechanisms and electric-window regulators, but those devices were not available in Europe initially.

When BMW and Mercedes-Benz wanted those components for vehicle programs, the German auto makers were content to import them from the U.S., he says.

Similarly, Brose NA has taken technology developed in Germany and added its own touches for North American OEMs.

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