AS CHIEF of Robert Bosch Corp.'s North American arm, Robert Oswald has helped build the German company into a major player in the US parts market. Through acquisitions and internal growth, Bosch has become the seventh-largest supplier of original equipment parts to North America. In 1996, the parent company in Germany, Robert Bosch GmbH, appointed Oswald as its first non-German board member. Oswald, 59, plans to retire on January 1, 2001. He will be succeeded by Kurt Liedtke, 57, managing director of Robert Bosch GmbH (Australia) pty. Ltd. Oswald met with Automotive News Europe's David Versical after announcing his retirement earlier this month. Edited excerpts:
Why are you retiring?
From the professional side, it's a good time. In North America, we've enjoyed during the 1990s over a 15 percent compound growth rate.
We've been able to build a very good organization, and we've got a good management team in place. It's ready to go on.
From the personal side, I've spent the past five years in a 70 percent travel schedule. I'm able to handle the travel; I would never say that I like it. It gets to the question, 'How much is enough?' I've got five grandchildren now and other things I'd like to do.
Your successor, Kurt Liedtke, is 57. He's not much younger than you.
He has been with Bosch 27 years - 23 of those he has spent outside Germany.
So he's a German by birth, but his actual experience in the company has been almost totally international - Spain, the UK and now Australia.
The idea of succession was maintaining some continuity. There is also a feeling there are a number of people within the organization in North America who will be ready in a few years to take over the overall leadership.
I believe the thought process that went through the supervisory board was, 'Let's have an orderly transition, but also let's give ourselves the flexibility so that we can have an American leading us again.'
You began your career at GM and Ford and ended up with Cummins Engine and then, since 1989, Bosch. Sum up the changes you've seen in the supply industry.
They are profound. Consolidation has had a major impact. The transition of work from the car manufacturer to the supplier community has changed fundamentally the responsibility and therefore the risk and the potential reward of the supply side. And the third dimension is the worldwide competition among suppliers.
In every sector of the business, every supplier has at least one and normally two or three extremely good competitors.
It's a very balanced supply structure right now.
There's no such thing as being the Microsoft in the automotive supply game. It's a great environment. It's not for the lazy, and it's not for the weak.