Carlos Mazzorin is not the first Big Three purchasing czar to cross over to “the other side” by joining a major supplier with whom he previously sat across the table negotiating contracts.

Thomas Stallkamp, now chairman of MSX International, headed Chrysler Corp.'s purchasing during the 1990s before rising to president — and then departed soon after the merger that created DaimlerChrysler AG in late 1998.

Mazzorin retired from Ford Motor Co. last November after a 30-year career mainly on the purchasing side. In January he raised eyebrows by becoming chairman and CEO of Magna Donnelly Corp., a subsidiary now being formed by Toronto's Magna International Ltd.

Magna won government approval to take over Donnelly Corp., a leading maker of mirrors based in Holland, MI, last October. Mazzorin is presiding over the merger, which is targeted for June completion.

The combination will result in a business with $1.3 billion in annual sales to 27 customers worldwide. Donnelly accounts for $800 million and Magna $500 million in mirror sales. Two plants already have been closed to eliminate redundant operations. Magna Donnelly will have 8,000 employees in 24 plants in 16 countries.

Mazzorin and Stallkamp traveled different paths to their latest jobs. Stallkamp's innovative approach to purchasing — and pricing — and let's-play-ball-together personality proved popular with suppliers. Instead of hammering them for concessions, he wooed them by sharing cost savings. But Stallkamp had his critics. Says a former Chrysler executive with whom he worked closely: “He was known as the ‘vendor defender’ inside the company.”

Moreover, MSX — focused primarily on engineering and temporary services — is not a traditional manufacturing supplier like Magna Donnelly.

Mazzorin is not likely to be remembered as a defender of supplier concerns, although he boasts in a Ward's interview that, “If you talk to the top 50 or 60 suppliers, I think you'll find I have been fair and receptive.”

A native of Argentina, Mazzorin, now 61, spent 13 years at General Motors Corp. before joining Ford in 1972. He is disarmingly courteous and polite, but during the 1990s he was the target of numerous firestorms among Ford's suppliers.

He did not make repeated demands for price concessions — routinely pegged at 5% yearly — entirely on his own. But he was the out-front guy who took the heat. Tempers flared. Some suppliers considered banding together to relinquish Ford business rather than accept its incessant hammering.

Mazzorin was aware of this dissent but argued that everyone would lose unless Ford could bring down costs. In later years, relative peace prevailed as Ford sent engineers to work with suppliers to improve efficiency and share cost savings.

“The pressures on prices are absolutely there, and I know why they are there,” he says as he weighs his past role against his new function. “I understand the demands and how important it is to be a partner. I love it (being on the other side). It's a new view, and with the knowledge I have, I think I can be a great deal of help.”

Ford's tough stance with suppliers obviously was influenced by J. Ignacio de la Arriortua (Inaki) Lopez, who GM put in charge of worldwide purchasing in 1992. The fiery Spaniard, who made his mark as an aggressive cost-cutter at GM's Adam Opel AG subsidiary, promptly battered North American suppliers to change their ways, eliminate waste and swallow large costs. GM boasted that in less than a year, Lopez had saved $2 billion at a time when the No.1 auto maker was dripping red ink. After leaving in 1993 for Volkswagen AG, Lopez was embroiled in an ugly corporate espionage case with his former employer GM.

With GM apparently showing amazing results from Lopez's “warrior” strategy, as he liked to call it, Ford could not sit by and pay more for components than its chief rival — in effect putting the company at a competitive disadvantage. So, like Lopez, Ford pushed for price concessions.

Despite the acrimony of those turbulent years — and the fact that the Big Three continue to keep a tight lid on prices they pay — Mazzorin just may be right: Everyone, it seems, has become more efficient.

Mazzorin could have relaxed into a comfortable retirement, but he wasn't ready for golf and a rocking chair. He mulled several opportunities, he says, but chose Magna because he'd always felt it was among Ford's best suppliers, and that over the years he had built a strong relationship with the Canadian company's founder, Frank Stronach, whose daughter, Belinda, currently is chairman and CEO.

“I had a lot of offers, but I knew Donnelly and Magna management; Magna was a great supplier to Ford,” he says. “I wanted to do something different, and what could be more different than going from an OEM to a supplier? I can bring the inside view.”

Although he has the final say-so, Mazzorin is somewhat insulated from the OEM procurement firing line by President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Schmied. Mazzorin says Ford accounts for approximately 30% of Magna Donnelly's annual volume, or roughly $400 million.

“My priorities are to successfully complete the merger and make sure we provide nothing but the best quality and good business structure,” he says. “We need affordable technology and speed — speed is money today,” he says, adding: “I'm trying to get a focus on our people. It's like a bus: You put people on the bus in the right seats and then you start driving.”

Although known as a purchasing executive, Mazzorin says he has ample credentials to run a manufacturing enterprise.

His first job at Ford was as a purchasing procurement anlayst. He climbed the ranks in a series of purchasing assignments, rising to vice president of global purchasing, a responsibility he retained when he later was named group vice president for South American Operations and subsequently Asia Pacific Operations in November 2001.

Six months later Ford shuffled its management and assigned international operations and global purchasing to Group Vice President David Thursfield, Ford of Europe chairman and CEO, who kept those titles as well.

“I ran Ford of South America so I know manufacturing,” Mazzorin says. Mazzorin insists he was not pushed out of purchasing with Thursfield's move from the U.K. to Dearborn, although that was speculated at the time. “I talked to Bill (Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.) and told him I wanted to leave, but he asked me to stay longer. They knew I was going to retire. No way was I pushed out of the company.” However, five months later he was gone.

Mazzorin says he hasn't had any surprises. “It's a challenging, fast-paced, take-no-prisoners industry,” he says. “It can't be for the weak of heart.”

As the fierce give-and-take of his Ford assignment attests, a weak heart is not a malady afflicting its former purchasing chief.