Bob Lutz wants to spend time developing a grand strategy for the world's largest battery maker. With his newly hired president and COO, Lutz has that freedom.
Craig Muhlhauser, until recently president of Visteon Corp., has begun picking up Lutz's many daily duties at Exide Corp.
Wall Street, too, has a task list for Muhlhauser. It wants Exide to:
Close distribution centers in Europe.
Focus on high-margin business opportunities.
Improve returns on invested capital.
Sell underperforming plants.
Muhlhauser's arrival will free up Lutz, said Ken Kring, a partner with the Philadelphia office of Heidrick & Struggles Inc., the US headhunting firm that helped recruit Muhlhauser. 'Bob has been working a lot of long hours; he wants to be the CEO, not the CEO and COO.'
Muhlhauser, 51, said the job 'is just an incredible fit; it will be a lot of fun.'
Muhlhauser, who spent much of his career in the aerospace industry, said he would seek growth in new products, especially those with high technology. The balance sheet also will get his attention.
He said he plans to save money by cutting waste here and abroad. Plans for North America were not disclosed, but he said he might close plants and distribution centers in Europe. And he is expected to continue plans to sell five nonstrategic business units.
The hiring of Muhlhauser last month solves a problem Lutz thought he had fixed. Last September Lutz hired Alan Johnson from Federal-Mogul Corp. to be his president and COO. But Johnson resigned after eight months and returned to Federal-Mogul, an automotive sealing and lighting giant in Southfield, Michigan, USA.
The company, which is based in Reading, Philadelphia, is still struggling to make a profit. A costly deal with Sears Roebuck & Co. to supply DieHard batteries was dissolved last year when the giant retailer refused the price increase Lutz sought. Exide supplied 4 million batteries under that contract.
The weather also hurt this year. Most of North America had an unseasonably warm winter, limiting demand for replacement batteries.
Recruiter Kring said eight high-caliber executives wanted the president's job. 'It was the Lutz factor that created the interest,' he said, referring to the charisma that surrounds the former Chrysler Corp., BMW AG and Ford of Europe executive.
For Muhlhauser, the opportunity to work with Lutz was a big factor. He had been with Visteon for two-and-a-half years when he resigned April 14.