John P. Reilly

Distinguished Service Citation Award 1991

Jack Reilly is a man who has made a career out of recognizing opportunity and then seizing it. Currently the president and chief executive officer of Tenneco Automotive and a 1991 recipient of a Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame, Reilly began his automotive career by identifying and going after an opportunity. “I happened to be in Detroit and I knew about the Chrysler Institute’s management training program,” he said. “I knew they only accepted 10 people a year in manufacturing and I wanted to get into the program. I recognized it as the best and toughest to get into, and I made it clear it was the only program I wanted. Well, I did get accepted, and that’s what drove me into the industry.” It is his drive, in fact, that has allowed him to serve three employers in most distinguished fashion.

He remained with Chrysler for 14 years, then spent six years with International Harvester before joining Tenneco Automotive seven years ago; he is now that company’s president and chief executive officer. Reilly began at Tenneco Automotive as the general manager of the Walker Division, the world’s largest manufacturer of exhaust systems. Under his leadership, the division’s original equipment sales tripled and represent a substantial improvement and strengthening of Walker’s position.

When he became president of Tenneco Automotive, he refocused on the company’s strength – manufacturing and sold the retail division, which consisted of Speedy Muffler King and Car-X. At the same time, he launched a new division, Tenneco Automotive

Brake, which manufactures non-asbestos brakes. “Frankly, we looked at acquiring a brake company, rather than begin a new one,” he said. “But we decided there was too much liability, too many problems associated with that move. We wanted to begin with a clean piece of paper, so we decided to put $50 million into a new plant and begin manufacturing nonasbestos brakes. “This conversion to non-asbestos brakes represents quite an opportunity,” he said. “From now until 1996, that market should grow by 24% annually.”

Another trend Reilly sees in the industry is the increasing movement toward a global market. “You must be a global supplier in order to compete,” Reilly said. “That day is coming soon. Regional suppliers just won’t survive. They’ll either go out of business, or they’ll be absorbed by larger, global companies. “The cost of doing research and development, the cost of marketing – all of these expenses are so high that they have to be spread out over a larger base,” he said. “That is what is driving this global trend.”

Tenneco’s automotive products are already available throughout Europe, so Reilly is ready for the opening of the European Common Market. In fact, the company has a single catalog-though in different languages-and a single engineering standard for its Pan European market.

The acquisition of the ride control division of Armstrong PLC of the United Kingdom gave Tenneco Automotive, through its Monroe division, a stronger share of the European original equipment and aftermarket business. Additionally, the company has increased its business with Japanese auto manufacturers. “But in Eastern Europe, manufacturers must tread more slowly,” he cautioned. “We’ve adopted a ‘plant the seed’ strategy. That market is going to take a while to develop, simply because there’s little cash, an inadequate banking system, and an inability to borrow large amounts of money. “But we have a presence there,” he said. “And we have selling agreements with many companies in that part of the world. Our catalytic converters, for instance, are used extensively in Russia.” Still, Reilly says that until the ground rules are clear, he’s exercising caution in the market. “You don’t want to devote too much capital, because there’s a chance you can lose it,” he said. “We’ve planted the seed, though, and we’re ready to move when the time is right.”

So respected is his opinion on the global market that he was recently named the chair of the U.S Department of Commerce’s Auto Parts Advisory Committee, which advises the Secretary of Commerce on U.S./Japan automotive parts trade issues. Reilly believes the time is right for young people to consider the automotive industry as their career choice. “This truly is one of the only global industries in the world,” he said. “When I began 25 years ago, it was a domestic market. Now, managers have to understand the goings-on in Europe, South America, Japan and America in order to work effectively in this industry.

“Certainly, it’s all more complex than it was 25 years ago,” he said. “But it’s even more exciting … and, it’s a real challenge for anyone involved.” Not to mention an opportunity – an opportunity to succeed, as has Jack Reilly.

Expand to
read more

Sign up for our mailing list