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The friendship that formed Auria Solutions

AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

When Auria Solutions Ltd. officially went live on Sept. 15 as a U.S.-Chinese joint-venture supplier of vehicle carpet and acoustic components, it will owe its launch to a 10-year-old camaraderie between two rising managers: Brian Pour of the U.S. and Yao Ming Hua of China.

Pour, 45, who is Auria's CEO, spent 18 years of his 22-year career working in Asia, with Textron Automotive, Lear Corp. and, most recently, International Automotive Components. On Day One this week, the spun-off IAC soft-trim operations will boast approximately $1 billion in sales, 7,000 employees, 21 factories and four technical centers in North America, Asia and Europe.

Yao, 56, chairman, represents the interests of its new primary owner, Shanghai Shenda Co. Ltd. of China. Shenda, a large producer of textiles, will own 70 percent of Auria, while IAC -- now refocused on interior parts encompassing the bulk of its plastics production -- will own 30 percent.

That global partnership was made possible by Shenda's investment of $316.4 million in IAC's operations. That investment was, in turn, made possible by the longstanding working relationship between Pour and Yao.

"On my last assignment in Asia, I moved to Shanghai in 2007 to establish and grow IAC's business in Asia," Pour said. "We had just acquired Lear's interest in a joint venture with Shenda called SCCP -- the Shanghai Car Carpet Plant. I went to see it, and the first person I met there was a gentleman named Mr. Yao. He was the plant manager.

"We hit it off great."

A good talk

During their first meeting, Yao and Pour sat together for a long conversation in which the Shanghai factory manager and the 35-year-old manager dispatched from Detroit talked about what they hoped to accomplish. They discussed ideas to grow the business.

"We worked very well together over the years," Pour says. "That relationship set the course for a very bright future for all of us."

The partners took the Shanghai operation from a single factory generating $15 million a year in sales to six plants today producing $175 million in sales.

Yao's success propelled his own career. He moved from plant manager to general manager of the entire SCCP business, before becoming president of the Chinese parent company Shenda and now chairman of Shenda.

By 2015, realities were changing on both sides of the Chinese venture. In Detroit, IAC had survived a tough financial period and, under the leadership of CEO Steve Miller, wanted to review the global corporation to consider restructuring.

Pour was recalled from Shanghai to serve as IAC's chief operating officer, with a special task of identifying possible reorganizations.

In China, the go-go years of an expanding automotive market had slowed, and the government was now urging domestic makers to find new ways to globalize.

"The stars aligned," Pour said. "We at IAC needed to narrow our product portfolio and our focus -- and Shenda wanted to go global."

IAC's plan was to separate its two basic business areas -- hard-trim auto parts, which include instrument panels and interior door pieces in one business and soft-trim parts such as floor carpeting and other non-plastic parts in the other.

Such a carve-up would be surprisingly simple. Each of IAC's more than 100 factories around the world either produced soft trim or hard trim, with no overlap. Its management teams either handled soft trim or hard trim. Its research, purchasing and customer base also were divided neatly into soft and hard.

IAC put the wheels in motion to divide the company with a new investor.

"When this whole idea started," Pour said, "the first phone call I made was to Mr. Yao. I knew he was going to be interested. We had talked over the years about different ways for them to expand, so it was a natural move, to turn to a partner of many years. That's how we put this joint venture together."

Day Two

Looking forward, Pour says the partners are of a single mind on how to grow. In addition to some organic growth from existing customers, it will happen in three ways:

- Auria intends to expand into some additional product areas related to its existing lines.

- The venture will target new vehicle production geographies, primarily in Europe and in Asian markets outside of China.

- There will be acquisitions.

The CEO declined to tip his hand, saying there are no negotiations underway yet. But there are some acquisition moves already in the company's sights.

"We're coming out of the gate as a profitable startup, with a very strong balance sheet, great liquidity, a fantastically experienced leadership team and an ownership structure with tremendous growth aspiration," he said.

"People might look at us and say, 'It's just carpet.' But it is an historically profitable business that is incredibly complex with a lot of technology and potential," Pour said. "It's got all the makings of a great success story."

 

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