Wilbur Ross, the New York financier and tycoon President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to become the Secretary of Commerce and the principal adviser on trade issues in a Trump administration, has a big a stake in a major automotive supplier holdings in Mexico.
As secretary of commerce, Ross, 78, who has stepped back from an active role in managing companies such as the International Automotive Components Group, one of his largest holdings, will have a major role in future trade deals under Trump.
Throughout his career, Ross has made several fortunes with shrewd investments in distressed companies. Back in the early 2000s, he made a fortune out of the North American steel industry at a time when most investors, analysts and pundits said the steel business in the U.S. was dead.
International Automotive Components, the automotive supplier Ross created in 2006 out of the remains of Collins & Aikman, which had collapsed under the management – or mismanagement – of Republican wunderkind David Stockman. It has continued to grow through acquisitions and now has plants throughout North America and key engineering and technical offices Detroit.
Since IAC is privately held, it discloses limited financial information. But sales from operations in North America, Europe and East Asia now includes operations in 20 different countries and it reports revenue of nearly $6 billion annually.
(Ross adds top executives to IAC. Click Here for the story.)
But at its heart, according to information gleaned from IAC’s website, North America accounts for the biggest share of company’s revenue and the North American business depends heavily on its Mexican operations.
In a 2007 press release announcing the purchase of Collins & Aikman’s plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, where Ford has a big assembly plant, Ross noted, “Hermosillo is a major addition to our Mexican manufacturing footprint and demonstrates our commitment to expansion in low cost countries.”
In 2015, IAC expanded its Mexican footprint again with a new manufacturing facility in Arteaga, Mexico. The plant, which employs approximately 320 people, serves as a dedicated center of expertise for compression bonded cut, sew and wrapped highly crafted automotive interior components, including instrument panels, door panels, floor consoles, armrests and bolsters.
“Including the new Arteaga plant and three other recent company plant expansions in Mexico, IAC is in position to support the automotive industry’s continued growth in the country,” the IAC press release said.
(Click Here for details about Trump’s plans for EVs.)
Ross is described in profiles as having developed reservations about free trade over the years and has profited from the tariffs imposed on imported steel more than a decade ago.
In 2004, Ross sold International Steel Group, the company he created from the remains of LTV, Bethlehem and several other steel makers, to a family of ambitious Indian entrepreneurs for $2.2 billion and a handsome profit.
Critics also like to suggest Ross was lucky.
Along the way, Ross got some help from the United Steel Workers union and their top financial advisor, Ron Bloom. In 2002, the USW elected to negotiate with Ross rather than with the other operators circling around the rusting hulks of nearly abandoned steel mills.
(Change coming to auto industry. Click Here for more.)
Ross still serves as a director of Arcelor Mittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, which has plants all over the world including North America, Europe and Central Asia.