Leadership Spotlight: Q&A with Eddie Wilkinson, Bendix

Eddie Wilkinson is President of Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake LLC.  Formed in July 2004, BSFB is a single, complete source for OEM brake system design, manufacturing, hardware, and support for all foundation brake components and actuation systems. In the following Q&A, Eddie shares with us his valuable insights on the topics of leadership and success.

TBR: What is your current role and area of responsibility?

EW: I’ve been with Bendix over 20 years, and have been president of Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake – BSFB – since 2012. BSFB is also known as the Bendix wheel-end business. We provide air disc brakes, drum brakes, slack adjusters, actuators – essentially all the products we offer are found on the wheel-end of the axle.

My responsibilities include strategic planning, product development, sales and marketing, full P&L, plus manufacturing. BSFB has manufacturing operations in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where we produce disc brakes and drum brakes; our manufacturing campus in Acuña, Mexico, produces spring brakes; and our campus in Huntington, Indiana, remanufactures drum brake shoes. We have strategically placed distribution centers within the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to ensure our customers enjoy timely delivery.

TBR: How would you describe your leadership style and why has it worked so well for you?

EW: I’m very open. I have a strong management system that expects a high degree of engagement from all parties, regardless of their roles and responsibilities. BSFB has a table of six energetic, intelligent, passionate leaders – we don’t just have six people responsible for individual areas. I expect us all to engage and have opinions and advice on the direction we’re going. I do my best to hire people who bring strengths that the organization needs, including areas where they’re stronger than I am: I don’t let ego get in the way of having strong, capable people around us all.

As leaders, we have to break down barriers and establish trust in our organization. We should be willing to open up and be honest and sincere about ourselves first. A lot of that is reflected in how you interface with people. You’ve got to open up the dialogue of trust and develop respect. My leadership style is very engaging, and I pride myself on being highly focused on emotional intelligence. I would rather give the benefit of the doubt 100 percent of the time than demonstrate a lack of trust in my team. I treat others the way I would expect to be treated, and remain always mindful of cultural differences – especially in our global environment – that may require something different.

TBR: What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?

EW: This is a very exciting time in our industry, thanks to the move toward automated driving. The market is also shifting to more electric vehicles, even though that path is still evolving. Because of these changes, we need to have more electronic system engagement and smarter wheel-ends – that latter element is a focus for BSFB as we develop and deliver integrated wheel-end solutions. The public and fleets expect vehicles to be safer, with highly dependable brake systems throughout the vehicles’ lifecycle. The question is how to help ensure that vehicles continue to perform safely in this evolving environment, which will demand a higher degree of precision.

To me, it’s a great environment to be in – it’s where we are best in the marketplace, offering the safest and highest-performing products. What the brake systems look like and how we evolve in that competitive market is one of our big challenges – for the industry, not just for our business.

TBR: What do you look for when evaluating top talent?

Leaders running a large, complex organization can’t be timid in any way, but you should have a high degree of self-awareness. I look for business partners and expect a strong bias for action – and the willingness to engage with people with a high degree of personal respect for everyone. It’s essential to see leadership in all areas of behavior. While results are critically important, good leaders should demonstrate ownership for how you achieved those results.

I look for people who take ownership of themselves, and accountability for their team. You must demonstrate courage and the knowledge to know which battles are necessary to win.

TBR: What was your first job in the industry?

I moved to Mexico in 1999 to start up a plant for Bendix where we were remanufacturing air dryers and valves. We’d had a small-volume remanufacturing operation there, but it was time to open a brand-new facility. I came over from the aerospace industry, where we did repair and overhaul of aircraft brakes, so my move to Bendix was – and continues to be – a perfect fit.

TBR: What is the best career advice you have been given?

EW: Find your own path. Everyone needs to understand their personal vision by asking questions like: “What excites me about a career? What do I really want my legacy to be? What’s the ideal situation?” The next step is to back up and lay out a plan that says, “Here are a few paths that will get me there.” And using that idea of your personal vision, you can align your career journey along the way. It may not always be a straight line: You need to be willing to take side steps when they fit to your path and provide you with forward progress in your career.

TBR: Name your favorite/recent book(s) you have read:

The Platinum Rule by Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Connor, because it really focuses on understanding behavior differences, and how to examine what you’re trying to achieve through understanding the behavior of others and not just yourself.

TBR: What is your favorite quote and why?

EW: This relates to the book I mentioned. One of my favorite quotes is The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve always believed it works in almost every circumstance. But it’s built from the premise that others would want to be treated the way you would. Lately, I’ve found myself challenging that rule with something that’s perhaps more applicable in the business world, which is The Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

TBR: How do you see the industry evolving over the next 5-10 years, and do you have any bold predictions for us?

EW: Today, in North America, our industry reflects a mix of about a 25 percent share of air disc brake to 75 percent drum brake. In less than five years, that could flip. My bold prediction is that it goes 75-25 as the market realizes that disc brakes are so much more of a capable system.

More than that, I think the trucking industry will move to automated vehicles more quickly than some predict. These vehicles will absolutely require the complete braking capability of air disc brakes – a solution that is more predictable and, in some ways, more reliable than a drum brake system. Stopping distance in drum brakes is affected by fade when they get hotter. With disc brakes, as they heat up, the performance gets better, so you’ll be able to count on the design intent of an advanced system, and the technology will be more reliable with an air disc brake.

TBR: Tell us something that most people might not know about you or your organization.

EW: I grew up on a farm in Louisiana and owned a dairy farm for 15 years, which is a background that doesn’t necessarily align with the engineering world I work in today. That background, however, has been a major factor in helping to shape my leadership style. Also, I like Louisiana State University, which means I like purple. So my family sedan happens to be a Dodge Charger, the “plum crazy” Hellcat.

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