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Published: Sunday, 2/19/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

A BLADE SPECIAL REPORT

Many foreign firms in area opt for transparency

Dashing Pacific's low-profile tack differs from Pilkington, others

BY TONY COOK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

While international investment is nothing new to Toledo, the lack of information about the two Chinese investors who have bought up large swaths of East Toledo's riverfront is.

It's been nearly a year since the city sold The Docks restaurant complex to Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., a U.S. corporation formed by Chinese investors Yuan Xiaohong and Wu Kin Hung. Yet Toledo residents still know little about the company and its investors -- at least until this week's Blade series. Ms. Yuan and Mr. Wu have kept a low profile, making few public appearances and keeping the press at a distance.

That differs dramatically from how most other foreign investors in Toledo have conducted business.

Inquiry shed's light on Chinese investors

TOLEDO'S CHINA CONNECTION

When English glass manufacturer Pilkington Brothers PLC took over Toledo's homegrown Libbey-Owens-Ford in 1986, a spokesman for the new owner explained the terms of the deal. Within a year, Pilkington's chairman, Sir Antony Pilkington, had addressed 800 members of the Chamber of Commerce and sat down with The Blade for a Q&A. He talked openly about the company's decision-making process, its relationship with organized labor, and its plans.

"A company is not just pieces of paper. You have strategy, people, a community, and an effect on a nation's economy," he said in a February, 1987, Blade interview.

"I believe strongly in communication. That has helped us to be successful here. I don't know why, but when you take over a company, people automatically assume you are about to do something illogical. It is a matter of good communications to quiet those fears and to get your aims across to people," Sir Antony said.

The comparison between Pilkington and Dashing Pacific is far from perfect. Pilkington took over a publicly traded company, not city-owned real estate.

And while there may have been a difference of accents, there was not the kind of language and cultural barriers inherent to a deal with Chinese investors.

Still, the transparency advocated by Sir Antony has been the standard in most foreign investment deals that have affected Toledo.

In 1980, when French automaker Renault S.A. took a 46.4 percent interest in American Motors Corp., Renault executive Jose Dedeurwaerder was an occasional visitor to Toledo and AMC's flagship Jeep plant.

Mr. Dedeurwaerder met with reporters and state officials to discuss the budding Franco-American alliance, and he took interest in Jeep's newest models, even driving them off the assembly line for waiting photographers.

He outlined the future of the two companies and talked about bringing new models to the aging facility. "Renault," Mr. Dedeurwaerder said in a 1982 interview to assuage fears over the future of the Toledo Jeep operation, " is a 'work with' company, not a takeover company."

Walter and Armin Hunger, father and son German industrialists who brought their steel cylinder manufacturing operation to Rossford in 1980, expressed enthusiasm for their plant.

Hunger United States Special Hydraulic Cylinders Corp. settled in a former Libbey-Owens-Ford Thermopane plant. Although the 500 projected jobs didn't materialize, Armin Hunger, Walter's son, said in a 1987 interview: "We certainly didn't buy this just to say we had a U.S. office. We certainly wanted to be larger, but the economy was a factor."

The closest comparison to Dashing Pacific's ventures here might be Mazda Motor Manufacturing Corp.'s $450 million investment in a new assembly plant to build Mazda and Ford Motor Co. vehicles in nearby Flat Rock, Mich. It represented a new investment rather than a takeover.

The president of the Japanese automaker, Osamu Nobuto, had a fairly open relationship with the media, providing The Blade with job projections and an update on union negotiations during a religious groundbreaking ceremony in May, 1985.

When a new president, Masahiro Uchida, took over in 1990, he continued that tradition, hosting a press gathering and telling The Blade that the company "would like to be involved in the community."

It was the kind of statement that made sense given Mr. Uchida's message during a world trade conference at the SeaGate Convention Centre in 1988, when he was vice president of the company.

"Sales and sensitivity to the customer must be in the minds of every person in the company," he said.

More recently, other foreign investors have been accessible to the public and the media.

After Italian car maker Fiat SpA took control of a bankrupt Chrysler Group in 2009, its CEO, Sergio Marchionne, spent a few months behind closed doors but then emerged and spoke publicly about his strategy for the reorganized company, which owns the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex.

When the plant's native-born manager was replaced in 2010 by Mauro Pino, an Italian, he spoke to The Blade not only about the company's efforts to cut waste and increase efficiency, but also even about how he and his son were adjusting to Toledo. That level of engagement earned him accolades, even from the United Auto Workers union's Jeep unit chairman, who praised Mr. Pino in a November, 2010, Blade article for renting a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to ride in a union charity event.

Blade staff writer Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.

Contact Tony Cook at: acook@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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