Exclusive: Interview with Delphi’s Jose Maria Alapont
Jose Maria Alapont is swapping Paris for Detroit. Delphi hopes that the shrewd management acumen employed by Alapont as president of Delphi Europe can be made to work on a broader international stage. Chris Wright talked to him about his new role and the global challenges facing Delphi Corporation.
When Delphi Corporation was spun off from General Motors in 1999, it went off into the big wide world in search of new opportunities. It wanted to cut some of the ties it had to its former parent and make its own way with other people. In Europe it has arguably achieved that with 75 percent of its business non-GM. The trick is now to mirror this elsewhere and the man charged with the job is Jose Maria Alapont, president of Delphi Europe since July 1999.
Having done a successful job in Europe Alapont has been given a newly created role heading up international operations plus global sales and marketing.
The 52-year-old executive, formerly with Ford and Valeo, moves from Delphi Europe HQ in Paris to Detroit this month. Reporting to him will be Delphi's three regional presidents, Europe, Asia Pacific and South America, along with customer directors, including those in North America. Sales directors will report to their division presidents as well as Alapont.
It's a move Alapont sees as being in line with the wishes of Delphi's customer, the carmakers. "It is a role that brings all the divisions together to meet the requirement of our customers in terms of development, system or module supply, as well as diagnosing and solving problems. It is not a vast new department, but a small unit overseeing operations worldwide.
"As well as the biggest, Delphi is the most diversified system and module integrator so when we are talking about some of our products we are not talking about one division, we are talking cross-divisional responsibilities for systems and modules, they are all involved.
"What we are doing is very much in tune with the global strategy of our customers and being a single supplier can bring great advantages."
Delphi will attack China and also look to develop non-automotive business
There are two areas where Alapont sees the greatest potential - China and non-automotive business. He is hoping to see Delphi achieve its first $1 billion sales outside the car industry by 2005 or 2006. "
"We have an opportunity to take advantage of the technologies we have developed for the auto industry and transfer them into other areas where the synergies are obvious."
These areas include aerospace, medical equipment, energy and consumer electronics - sectors that require expertise in electronics, sensors and fuel cells. "We do not have to develop new technologies, we already have them and so it's a question now of applying them to new business areas," he added. This is one reason why Delphi took a huge stand at this month's consumer electronics show in Las Vegas while at the same time reviewing its presence at major automotive shows.
"The car companies know who we are," said Alapont adding that Delphi now prefers to hold more intimate technology workshops with its customers. "This gives our customers a deep dive into our technologies. We took a decision to pull out of the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) in Detroit a couple of years ago and our booth at the Paris Salon last October was more of a business centre than a showcase for our technology. Frankfurt and Tokyo this year will be reviewed to see what value we are likely to get from them."
China forecast to be Delphi's biggest growth area in 2003
Fastest growth is in Asia Pacific in general and Alapont predicts China will be the company's biggest growth area in particular during 2003. Sales in the region totalled $1 billion in 2002 excluding joint ventures in which the company does not have a majority stake.
"There has been a big effort to develop China but until now we have never really seen large growth," he said. But entry into the WTO has seen increased investment in infrastructure and a more open business environment. Alapont expects sales to increase there by 30 percent, roughly the same pace as the overall vehicle market.
While all the world's major carmakers are establishing a presence in China, Delphi now has 15 plants there.
"The country has a consumer market which did not exist 10 years ago and it is growing.
"China is a market of 3 to 3.2 million vehicles and the buyers are demanding the latest models and technologies. For this market we need a dual strategy: to be moving with the market but also remaining lean in manufacturing terms with high quality products. That quality is getting there and we will be using China more and more as an export centre to other regions in the world including Europe and North America."
Increased 'customer and market efficiency'
Alapont said his new international role is a step towards more customer and market efficiency. Since being spun off from GM Delphi has worked to reduce its dependence on the giant automaker. In 1998 50 per cent of its business was with GM and last year more than 75 percent of its European business was with other manufacturers although 65 percent of its business in North America remains with its former parent.
Less reliance on GM and its partners also leaves the company less exposed. "We have become less sensitive to a particular customer's problems as we have broadened our portfolio," Alapont added.
GM remains important in North America, however. "We always said we would try to maintain and consolidate our GM business while developing as fast as possible with other customers worldwide."
Things seem to be working. Delphi has maintained 10 percent growth year on year. Alapont said: "We have managed to successfully to transform the company while maintaining profitable growth. There has been a reduction in sales, however, as Delphi has divested some of its non-core businesses since spinning off from GM. There is no customer where we do not have a strong business portfolio."
Jose Maria Alapont
Sales in Europe grew to $5.7 million in 2002, a region which has seen sales grow 40 percent since 1998 both organically and through acquisitions. Delphi is now the second largest supplier of diesel systems, particularly with its common rail technology.
South America, Alapont admitted, remains a problem area with volatile economies in the region's largest markets, Brazil and Argentina. He said: "The latest government elections in Brazil have had a positive effect on the economy. We just have to concentrate on being even more efficient for that market, but at the moment we are not talking significant numbers."
Replacing Alapont at Delphi Europe is Volker Barth, 55, president of Delphi South America since 1996.
Jose Maria Alapont's biography
Alapont began his automotive career with Ford of Spain in 1974 as a machine and process capability engineer. He held various managerial, manufacturing, engineering, purchasing and operations assignments at Ford of Europe. In 1990, Alapont was named managing director of Valeo Engine Cooling-Spain. In 1991, he became executive director for Worldwide Heavy Duty Engine Cooling Operations and in 1992 he was appointed group vice president and general manager Worldwide Clutch & Transmission Components at Valeo. Subsequently, he became group vice president and general manager for Valeo's Worldwide Lighting Systems.
He joined Delphi in October 1997 as executive director, international operations for Delphi Energy & Engine Management Systems and in August 1998, he added Delphi Chassis Systems international operations to his responsibilities. He was elected a Delphi Corporation vice president and president of Delphi Europe, Middle East & Africa on July 1, 1999.
A native of Spain, Alapont received an industrial engineering degree from the Technical School of Valencia, Spain, and holds a doctorate in philology from the University of Valencia, Spain.