Automotive Magic

Industry mainstay BorgWarner knows that affecting change in the automotive field requires a certain finesse

As the legal lead of BorgWarner, John Gasparovic has a front-row seat as new technologies rapidly change the automotive sector. It’s not an easy task considering the sheer scale of the industry, but Gasparovic meets it head-on with a sound legal framework and the backup of the BorgWarner senior management team.

Like the products it produces, the automotive industry is a machine. To affect change in the whole, all the parts must necessarily be considered, and if your role within the process is as vice president, general counsel, and secretary—as it is for John Gasparovic of BorgWarner Inc.—you must not only consider the way the machine affects its particular components, but the way the components affect the whole. It’s a fine line to walk, and takes more than legal finesse to understand the way policy affects procedure, and in turn, how procedure affects strategy.

“All of senior management is constantly working together to help shape the overall strategy of the company,” Gasparovic says. “I have a voice so there is the potential to have some real impact.”

BorgWarner traces its automotive roots to a merger, in 1928, of four founding companies: Marvel-Schebler, Mechanics Universal Joint, Warner Gear, and Borg & Beck. Through the years, other automotive pioneers joined the company, including Morse Chain; BERU AG; Schwitzer; Stieber Rollkupplung; and Kühnle, Kopp + Kausch, all forerunners of BorgWarner’s various businesses today. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, the company was best known for its supply of Warner Gear overdrive units, along with carburetors, and, in the 1950s, three-speed automatic transmissions for Ford. In 1993, Borg-Warner Automotive Inc. was spun-off from Borg-Warner Security Corporation. Then, in 2000, the independent company was renamed BorgWarner Inc.

Today, BorgWarner’s award-winning innovations and advanced technologies help improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and enhance performance for vehicles around the world, including cars, pickup trucks, commercial trucks, construction equipment, and agricultural vehicles. BorgWarner tallies in at #355 on the Fortune 500 and has annual revenue of around $7.1 billion drawn from its two segments: the BorgWarner Engine Group and the BorgWarner Drivetrain Group.

The company operates 57 facilities across 19 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America. For this reason, a large part of Gasparovic’s work is with attention to supply-chain management, both as purchaser and as a supplier. Though, as Gasparovic explains, this is merely one part of his multidimensional function. “Our vision is to be the global technological leader in power-train solutions,” Gasparovic says. “Our strategy also includes being first in customer and geographic diversity, as well as maintaining our financial goals. The supply chain is an integral part of this—but so are all of these other elements.”

Gasparovic joined BorgWarner in 2007, after two years at Federal-Mogul Corporation, an automotive-products supplier—a position itself informed by Gasparovic’s work as vice president and general counsel at both the Roadway Corporation from 2000 to 2003 and Guardian Industries, Automotive Division, from 1990 to 2000. “Federal-Mogul was instituting a reorganization plan when I moved over to BorgWarner,” Gasparovic says. “I knew a lot about BorgWarner through my other work, and I always marveled at BorgWarner’s financial results.”

Gasparovic partly credits his interest in the automotive industry to his background as a Detroit native, where—even in the midst of the manufacturing exodus of the last half of the 20th century—the city has nonetheless bred innovation in the automotive sector. Feeding off the energy of his upbringing in this way, Gasparovic is not only able to bring strong legal knowledge to his field of expertise, but he is also able to deliver it in the nuanced way that can’t be taught—only lived. “The sheer scale of the automotive industry is mind-boggling,” Gasparovic explains. “And in recent years, the industry has gotten really interesting in terms of its technology.”

“The sheer scale of the automotive industry is mind-boggling. And in recent years, the industry has gotten really interesting in terms of its technology.” —John Gasparovic

Gasparovic compares the technological innovation today in the automotive industry to the technological activity in Silicon Valley, though he also admits that whatever speed might be possible for these innovations is also, at times, limited by the policies associated with these new technologies. And that’s where the bulk of his focus is directed. “BorgWarner is a pure power-train company, and it has been our focus for a long time. Our strategy has been to be the technology leader in this regard,” Gasparovic says. “This strategy has been successful, and in terms of our international growth, I think our technology leadership has driven this growth, though fuel-economy and emissions policies set by some of our markets have allowed our products to achieve those goals.”

Presently, BorgWarner has more than 4,000 patents and patent applications, and it looks to technology to be the major driver for the company’s continued growth. As such, Gasparovic looks to develop a knowledge base on all of the policies, structures, and operations associated with this growth. This is as much ensuring the parts are moving smoothly as it is ensuring the machine continues to be adaptable to new changes—inside and out. “There’s a lot of travel here, because you need to be on the ground and you need to do a lot of homework and really gain an understanding of the markets in which we operate,” Gasparovic says. “In terms of growth strategy, in this way, I’m very much involved.”