Print Friendly and PDF

Don’t Forget the Little Guy

AMI Manchester Stamping CEO on the niche for small suppliers

Pages 18-19

By James Martinez

At 6 feet 5 inches, Vince Henderson typically towers over most others in the room. Ironically, his 90-employee company AMI Manchester Stamping, located about 30 miles southwest of Ann Arbor, is a small supplier sometimes lost in the shadows of the automotive giants that call Michigan home.

The loquacious CEO, who bought the company in 2007 and travels to Manchester from his Texas home each week, shares his passionate views about the role small suppliers like AMI play in maintaining the vibrancy of the domestic automotive industry and the impact they have on product and vehicle quality.

Having survived the near collapse of the auto industry and supply chain in 2009, AMI took two more hits in 2011 as natural Don’t Forget AMI Manchester Stamping CEO on the niche for small suppliers By James Martinez disasters – namely the tsunami in Japan and mudslides in Thailand – devastated AMI’s primary customers (Toyota and Honda) and exposed the fragility of the supply chain. Since then, the automotive stamping company has doubled its workforce and is operating three shifts for the first time in years. While AMI may need to expand to keep up with demand, Henderson worries about the ability of small suppliers to maintain their niche amid the complexities and politics of the global automotive supply chain.

Henderson sat down with the Detroiter to share his perspective on what lies ahead for an industry known for turbulent twists and turns. Below are excerpts from the conversation with Henderson.

I’ve always been fascinated with how cars roll. How they work. What makes them go. All those things that make it work. I was just fascinated with it. It was all going on (in the General Motors plant my father worked at in Kansas). I couldn’t believe it. My dad took me around. I couldn’t even sleep for weeks. I remember thinking about it. It was the coolest thing ever. I was in the eighth or ninth grade. … That was when I made the decision, when I was a kid.

We went from the bad automotive industry right into a tsunami. And right after the tsunami, we had the mudslides in Thailand take out all of the top Toyota and Honda suppliers based in that area … so (AMI’s) sales go down again. … The company was in dire straits. … Everyone around us was going through tough times. … We looked at it and said, “We’re going to hang in and see if we can make it.” We didn’t file (for bankruptcy). We thought about it. … We decided to stick and stay.

Every time the industry takes a dip, it never comes out the same way it went in. So that means a certain group of people will not be back no matter what. So, how are you going to plan for that? There’s no way to plan for it. What you do is try to keep your good people close and pray that the industry is going to come back and that people will still love cars.

You have to stay lean. We are lean here. We have excellent people. You have to have people willing to stay who have bought into the program. Your employees have to buy in. If your employees don’t buy in, you’re going nowhere. Our employees here at AMI have bought in so big, and they love this company.

Everything you make, you make over and over and over again. So having 4 (million) to 4.5 million parts leaving out of here every single month, it’s something you do over and over again. You can learn how to do it with perfection. How to make something perfect is doing it over and over again, and understanding what it is. … That’s what AMI has done.

We are competitive with people from China. This is a worldwide market now, and we understand that. We can beat prices over in China that are bringing product over to the United States, and that was unheard of because they pride themselves on being able to put it on the boat and get it over here cheaper than we can make it.

OEMs want to reduce their supplier networks, and there is nothing wrong with that. But when you do that, you need to cast a wide net initially, so that when you do reduce the network you have the best of the best (to ensure safety). … It shouldn’t be price first. It should be price, along with quality, along with excellent delivery, so you know you can get your product on time … with the absolute best price and the absolute best quality. Those two go hand-in-hand, not one over the other.

The problem with the industry is that everyone wants to be bigger than they should be.

It’s supposed to be the trickle-down effect. (The business from the OEMs) is not trickling down to the small suppliers, so the small suppliers are really working their tails off to try to figure out how to stay in the game.

What we are asking of General Motors, Ford Motors and Chrysler is to basically talk to the (global Tier 1 suppliers) of the world, and not just for us, but for all the small companies like us … and (say) don’t overlook us. Give us the opportunity to bid. That’s all we ask for.

AMI has never minded being under the radar … We don’t necessarily care about putting our name on that part when it goes out the door. What we care about is that they came to us for our manufacturing know-how and capability to get it done.

We are running three shifts a day, five days a week and also one shift on Saturday trying to keep up. We’ll have some 27 trucks a day come in and out of AMI as we make product on our stamping floor. … We’re just doing great. We feel blessed. We really need to expand this facility to keep up.

James Martinez is editor of the Detroiter.