AT LAST year's Automotive News Europe Congress in Amsterdam, ZF Friedrichshafen Chairman Klaus Bleyer was asked when he thought ZF would become a quoted company. Like other leading German suppliers such as Bosch and Mahle, ZF is owned by a foundation - called Zeppelin Stiftung - which is largely controlled by the town of Friedrichsafen where ZF is based.
Bleyer's reply was that he thought most supplier chief executives who are tied to shareholder views and annual results envied his freedom to think and act long term.
ZF's ambitious plans for growth, and its plans to expand its module and systems capability, show why this freedom is important.
Most analysts say the development of systems and modules is crucial to the future of the supplier industry. Leading suppliers must deliver innovative and cheaper solutions for new vehicles, and save automakers cash and time.
But while this trend offers suppliers revenue growth, the benefits can take a long time to flow through to profits.
The move to modules requires a big investment for suppliers. They need new development and testing facilities, new production facilities near the assembly plant, and they need to learn new skills to manage Tier 2 suppliers and logistics operations.
And it's a competitive business.
Everyone is trying to win new module business - and become key systems suppliers to future generations of cars. The experience with modules built up by suppliers will be vital if they want to remain competitive in the future.
This means some suppliers are offering big savings to vehicle makers to ensure they are part of key programs - sometimes without even knowing how those savings will be achieved.
And the financial community is showing signs of impatience. Many investors don't see why they should wait for a stock to rise significantly. They want immediate returns on their investments.
All this means supplier chief executives face a dilemma - should they keep results strong in the short run, or invest in the longer-term future of the business?
At ZF, Bosch and Mahle, annual results seem to take second place to the long-term business strategy. They know there is no alternative to long term thinking if they want to thrive well into the next millennium.