Joseph Borruso is a man with a mission. Actually, a few missions.

A few months ago, the Brooklyn, NY, native left Robert Bosch Corp., a massive global supplier with a name recognized around the world, to work for a company that is virtually unknown in North America.

Hella KG Hueck & Co. of Lippstadt, Germany, known in Europe for its expertise in automotive lighting, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Still, after a century in business and nearly 50 years of importing to the U.S., Hella remains a well-kept secret in North America, partially because it is a private company.

For Mr. Borruso, and the people who hired him, the Hella secret has been kept too well. So the new president and chief executive of Hella North America Inc. has a mission to get the company name ingrained into the American automotive psyche.

He carries a handy list of "firsts" that he proudly shares with visitors to Hella's North American headquarters in Plymouth, MI. Hella produced the first asymmetric beam (1957), the first halogen lamp (1971) and the first high-intensity discharge headlamp (1991, with Bosch).

Hella reports annual sales of $2.3 billion. Still, Mr. Borruso knows his company needs to be bigger to compete with the likes of Visteon Automotive Systems, Federal-Mogul Corp. (owner of Wagner Lighting) and Guide Corp., the former lighting division of Delphi Automotive Systems.

With the competition mating up, will Hella do the same? Federal-Mogul already has announced it intends to sell its lighting operations. Mr. Borruso says Hella and Federal-Mogul have had discussions, but that a deal is unlikely.

Hella is also in the electronics business, and it wants to satisfy OEM demands for a single supplier to deliver body controllers and the associated wiring.

In the past, separate companies have produced those systems, but the market is moving toward single sourcing. So Mr. Borruso says a linkup might be in Hella's future. The company makes body controllers but needs a partner in wiring harnesses.

"In my vision, to be a meaningful Tier 1 participant, we need to do this," he says. "Customers want the vehicle architecture optimized."

Mr. Borruso also must evaluate the company's North American facilities. The company has plants in Flora, IL, (automotive relays and electronic flashers); Peachtree City, GA, (lighting, aftermarket accessories); and three plants in Mexico (front-end modules, lighting and electronics).

Two years ago, Hella opened its Plymouth facility to serve as headquarters for Hella North America and its Hella Electronics subsidiary. The plant produces keyless entry receiver modules and climate control modules for Volkswagen AG and oil level sensor modules for BMW AG.

Still, only a quarter of the 104,000 sq. ft. (9,700 sq. m) is being used, and Hella needs more business in the impressive facility that looks more like a community center than a manufacturing facility, with skylights and carpeting throughout.

A new product likely coming to Plymouth is the accelerator pedal sensor for an electronic throttle control system for a major U.S. automaker, for model year 2001. Hella also has won future lighting contracts for Jeep and a minivan platform, but Mr. Borruso wants to keep the Plymouth facility dedicated to electronics.

Complicating matters is yet another plant that Hella completed earlier this year in York, SC, with 120,000 sq. ft. (11,000 sq. m) of capacity and no customer as yet. The empty building sits padlocked, and the company is considering selling or leasing it.

"We will fill it, but certainly not in two years," Mr. Borruso says.

On with the mission.

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