Alumni Profile: Bill Kozyra '80
Bill Kozyra ’80, says working at his father’s wood model automotive prototype factory while obtaining an engineering degree at the University of Detroit prepared him well for a leading career in the automotive industry.
“I had been working for my dad since I was nine, and I was attracted to the co-op program at U of D where I could continue working while going to school,” says Kozyra, Continental Automotive Systems North America president and CEO. “I still value the quality education I got there and the close, personal relationships I had and still have with some of the professors.”
The Rochester resident is a rarity in that he had one career move but has worked for five companies. He began his career with the Budd Company as a project engineer, advancing to president of its wheel and brake division. In 1995, Budd was acquired by Allied Signal, which soon after was bought by Bosch, where Kozyra was vice president and general manager of the company’s brake products division. Bosch was purchased by ITT Automotive, and Kozyra served as vice president and general manager of brake and chassis systems North America. In 1998, Continental bought ITT Automotive, and he was named to his present post, based in Auburn Hills. Kozyra is also deputy member of the executive board of Continental AG, Hanover, Germany, and the first American to be appointed to that board.
All this change occurred in just three years, Kozyra says, and required a liberal dose of being open to change. “I had to manage my attitude in a positive way through all these mergers and acquisitions.”
Kozyra’s resilience makes him a more resolute leader. He considers his greatest accomplishment being active in promoting electronic stability control (ESC) to automakers. A major victory for him and others came last fall when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled that all new passenger vehicles be equipped with ESC by the 2012 model year. About 50 percent of vehicles today have ESC. The system, one of Continental’s major products, gives drivers greater ability to maintain control during high speeds and on slippery roads, often preventing rollover crashes.
“It saves 10,000 lives a year,” Kozyra says, adding that ESC is the second most effective safety technology since the seat belt.