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The Bing Group Business Information, Profile, and History

company million detroit steel

11500 Oakland Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48211
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives:

The Bing Group, formed in 1980 by Dave Bing, a prominent Detroit area entrepreneur, is a diversified base of manufacturing companies that provides superior products to our customers in the automotive, appliance, and office furniture industries through vertical integration. We have an outstanding reputation for providing our customers with exceptional quality and outstanding value. Our versatility allows us to accommodate the ever-changing customer demands of various industries with optimum efficiency and minimum costs. Our full-service business units provide extensive capabilities to our customers in the areas of steel processing, metal forming, and interior and exterior systems. All of the Bing Group companies are ISO 9000 and QS 9000 certified. The Bing Group is a certified Detroit-based minority business enterprise dedicated to uplifting our community. We are strongly committed to providing employment opportunities to area residents and ongoing support of efforts that improve the overall quality of life in the city of Detroit.

History of The Bing Group

The Detroit-based Bing Group shapes steel, stamps parts, assembles components, and performs other tasks through a combination of wholly owned and joint venture subsidiaries. Bing Group customers include the Big Three American automakers and several Japanese transplants, as well as manufacturers of appliances and office furniture. Founder and owner Dave Bing, a former Detroit Pistons star and basketball Hall of Fame member, serves as the company's chairman. The company is one of the largest African-American-owned firms in the United States.

Beginnings

The Bing Group traces its roots to 1980, when Bing Steel, Inc. was founded by recently retired basketball player Dave Bing. After growing up in Washington, D.C., where his father, a bricklayer, had started a construction company, Bing had been an all-American at Syracuse University and also studied business and economics. He was the second player chosen in the 1966 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, and his outstanding first-season play with the Detroit Pistons earned him NBA Rookie of the Year honors. In nearly a decade with the team, he set many club records, and he was named to the league's all-star team several years running.

During the off-season, Bing worked for National Bank of Detroit, where he moved from teller to branch manager over a seven-year span, and then later participated in the Chrysler dealership training program. These jobs helped him learn the respective trades as well as supplementing the relatively modest wages he earned from basketball in the pre-free agent era.

In 1978, after Bing had finished out his playing career with short stints as a Washington Bullet and Boston Celtic, he began to look for a new job back in Detroit. Rejecting the familiar but no longer inspiring fields of banking and auto sales, he examined an offer from Pistons owner Bill Davidson to work as a public relations representative for Paragon Steel, a company Davidson co-owned. The steel business intrigued Bing, and he convinced Davidson to let him train at Paragon to learn every aspect of it. After working for two years in a wide variety of different departments, he left with plans to found his own company. Although the U.S. steel industry was in a depressed state at this time, Bing felt the downturn represented an opportunity for growth.

Taking $80,000 from his own savings and a $250,000 loan that he had arranged through his banking contacts, he formed Bing Steel, Inc. to purchase steel from U.S. mills and then cut, bend, and shape it to order for customers, who would use it to fabricate their own products. Given its location in Detroit, there was much potential for sales to the auto industry, and 80 percent of revenues would eventually come from this sector.

Starting with just four employees, Bing Steel did $1.7 million in business in its first year of operations. It quickly expanded, and revenues increased to $40 million by 1985. At this point, the firm had 63 employees and two manufacturing facilities and was trucking shipments of steel to 53 customers that included General Motors, Ford, and Deere & Company. Dave Bing's success was recognized by President Ronald Reagan, who named him National Minority Small Business Person of the Year. By this time, he had also founded Heritage 21, a construction company that specialized in renovations.

Bing took pride in giving back to his community and outlined his business philosophy to the Detroit News. "If people are employed," he stated, "they don't have all that idle time on their hands to go out and do the things they're doing now. If they're properly educated, then they've got some options of what to do with their lives. What I want to do is offer young people in this area an option. I may never get to be a Fortune 500 company, but if I can employ a couple of hundred people, I will have made a positive impact on my city."

Superb Manufacturing Founded in 1985

Despite Bing Steel's rapid growth, its profits were low because margins in the steel service industry were razor-thin. In 1985, the firm began to work with Ford Motor Company's minority vendor program, which linked small minority-owned businesses with larger white-owned ones that could serve as mentors. This led to the formation of Superb Manufacturing, of which Bing would own 60 percent and Toronto-based Magna International 40 percent. Magna, which had annual revenues of $1.7 billion, was a major supplier to the auto industry. The newly created Superb would make stamped underbody parts such as hinges, brackets, and gas tank pans. Because of Magna's fears about locating in the depressed, high-crime city of Detroit, Bing found a plant in the northern suburb of Sterling Heights. Once in operation, Superb recorded first-year sales of $2.4 million. By 1989, its revenues had grown to $20 million.

At this juncture, Bing had convinced Magna to allow him to move Superb to a new $5 million, 56,000-square-foot plant in Detroit. It would form one of the cornerstones of North Industrial Park, which was located on property he owned or had the option to buy. Unfortunately, the move came just as the bottom was dropping out of the automobile market, and this had a tremendous impact on small industry suppliers like Superb and Bing Steel. As their losses mounted, the two firms began to edge close to bankruptcy.

In the summer of 1990, Magna sold its stake in Superb to tool and die specialists L&W Engineering, Inc. of Belleville, Michigan, and Southgate, Michigan-based ASC, Inc., a leading maker of convertible tops, which split Magna's 40 percent stake. The deal had been brokered by Bing's lenders, Manufacturer's Bank, and they insisted that he take over Superb's management, a job he had previously left to others. After taking control, he was able to significantly reduce its losses.

The summer of 1990 also saw Dave Bing form a money management firm called Alpha Capital Management in association with television executive Bob Warfield and Pistons star Isiah Thomas. With the latter Bing had earlier founded a fiberglass-distribution company called Bing-Thomas, Inc. The busy Bing, who had recently been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, also helped form an association for retired players and led a campaign to raise money to restore school programs cut by Detroit's Board of Education. For 1990, The Bing Group, as the combined Superb Manufacturing, Bing Steel, and Heritage 21 Construction were now known, was voted eighth on Black Enterprise magazine's list of the top twenty black-owned industrial and service companies in the United States.

In the early 1990s, The Bing Group's financial stress eased, and revenues climbed upward from an estimated $61 million in 1990 to $64.9 million in 1991 and then $77.6 million in 1992. In 1994, Chrysler President Robert Lutz urged his largest suppliers to buy 5 percent of their materials from minority-owned firms, and his lead was soon followed by Ford, General Motors, and the major Japanese carmakers that had manufacturing facilities in the United States. To meet the 5 percent figure, purchases from firms like The Bing Group would have to double.

Bing Manufacturing Created in 1994

While the move toward greater minority supplier participation was unfolding, carmakers were also trying to reduce the total number of suppliers they dealt with, which caused a number of smaller ones to consolidate so they could improve their chances in the market. During 1994, Bing approached his friend William Pickard, owner of Regal Plastics, Inc., to discuss the possibility of combining forces. Regal was a maker of injection-molded auto interior parts with $23.5 million in annual sales. Deciding against a merger, in early 1995 they made plans to form a new entity called Bing Manufacturing, Inc. as a joint venture between Bing, Pickard, and former Chrysler Acustar division president Forest Farmer. Financial assistance would come from Textron Automotive Interiors, a major industry supplier which would also take an equity stake.

Bing Manufacturing was set up to build more complicated component systems such as seating frames and instrument panels, and over time the company came to specialize in such tasks as adding color and detailing to bumpers and attaching cloth or leather to seat covers. The operation would be housed in a new $2.5 million, 40,000-square-foot plant that was located in North Industrial Park, which was in a federal "empowerment zone" that offered tax breaks and other incentives. Bing would be CEO and chairman, while Pickard was named vice-chairman and Farmer president and chief operating officer.

In 1996, Dave Bing formed another new company as a joint venture with the Lear Corporation called Detroit Automotive Interiors. Lear was one of the top three seat manufacturers in the world, with $7 billion in revenues. That same year, Bing also formed a joint venture with foam producer Woodbridge Ventures to create Trim Tech, which would make foam for automotive arm- and headrests. November 1997 saw the formation of a third new company, Bing Blanking LLC, in association with Rouge Industries, Inc. Bing had also acquired full ownership of Superb by this time.

Bing's rapidly-growing operations employed more than 700 and were taking in $183 million in revenues. $111 million of this amount was from the Big Three automakers, led by Ford with $67.2 million and Chrysler with $32.8 million. Other important customers included appliance and office furniture manufacturers. In June 1998, The Bing Group's success was recognized by Black Enterprise magazine, which named the firm its Company of the Year. Dave Bing's three daughters were now working for him, with the eldest, Cassaundra, serving as vice-president in charge of materials.

In the summer of 1999, Bing and Ford teamed up to build the Detroit Manufacturing Training Center, a nonprofit facility that would help prepare individuals to work for minority-owned automotive suppliers. The center would offer free eight-week training sessions in areas like welding, injection molding, and computers, with 400 students per year expected to enroll. Bing donated land near the firm's headquarters, while the Ford Motor Land Development Corporation supplied funding to construct the $3 million facility and supply it with equipment.

On August 13, 1999, a fire started in the 60,000-square-foot Bing Steel plant, causing extensive damage to the facility. Investigators ruled it had been deliberately set, possibly by a disgruntled employee. In December, a second fire occurred at Detroit Automotive Interiors, this time destroying more than a quarter of the 135,000 square foot plant where workers had relocated from the facility burned in August. Despite these setbacks, the company had a record year in 1999, with revenues estimated at $304 million. The Bing Group now employed more than 1,100.

Bing/Lear Venture Adds Mirrors Unit in 2000

In June 2000, the company's automotive interiors venture with Lear Corporation, now renamed Bing-Lear Manufacturing Group, acquired Lear's exterior mirror production operations in Berne, Indiana. Lear had recently acquired the mirror business, which generated more than $50 million in annual sales and employed 350, as part of a larger deal. The expanded unit was later renamed Bing Assembly Systems.

August saw another joint venture formed between Columbus, Ohio-based Worthington Industries and the Bing Metals Group, which consisted of the former Bing Steel, now known as the Steel Processing Division, and the former Superb, now known as the Stamp & Assembly Division. Worthington was a leading metal processing company with $2 billion in annual sales, and the venture would utilize its Taylor, Michigan, plant. Later in the year, Bing pulled out of the Bing Blanking venture with Rouge Industries, which was not performing up to expectations.

In the summer of 2002, Dave Bing became involved with another initiative to give back to his community. In partnership with Corinthian Developments, Inc. and National City Community Development Corporation, his Dogwood Ventures LLC group would build 40 single-family homes near North Industrial Park as the first phase in a larger re-development program. The three-bedroom homes, which were planned for families making $25,000 to $30,000 per year, would fill in vacant lots in an area that was dotted with older occupied homes.

The Bing Group had also recently resolved serious quality control issues that surfaced in 1999, at which time the company had undergone a large amount of job turnover. After General Motors reported an unacceptably high defect rate of 2,200 parts per million, GM supplier development engineers worked with Bing to lower the total to just 37 per million in 2002, and then to 17 per million for the first half of 2003. As a result of this improvement, General Motors named The Bing Group one of its suppliers of the year in both 2002 and 2003.

Late in the summer of 2003, Dave Bing announced new expansion plans for The Bing Group. Two acquisition deals were reportedly in the works, one in the South and the other near Detroit, which would potentially double the firm's workforce. The Assembly Systems unit was also making efforts to enter the instrument panel manufacturing business at this time. Bing projected annual revenues of $1 billion by 2008, nearly triple the $344 million his companies had earned in 2002.

The Bing Group had grown over nearly a quarter-century into a major auto industry supplier and one of the leading African-American-owned companies in the United States. Owner Dave Bing had earned a position of high esteem in Detroit for both his entrepreneurial skills and his many efforts to improve the lives of those less fortunate than himself. With new acquisitions on the horizon, The Bing Group looked to be on track for continued growth.

Principal Divisions: Bing Metals Group; Bing Assembly Systems.

Principal Competitors: Kasle Steel Corporation; Trianon Industries Corporation; Dana Corporation; Johnson Controls, Inc.; Magna International, Inc.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1980: Former basketball star Dave Bing founds a steel company in Detroit.
  • 1985: A joint venture with Magna International creates Superb Manufacturing.
  • 1995: Bing and William Pickard found Bing Manufacturing, Inc.
  • 1996: Joint ventures Detroit Automotive Interiors and Trim Tech are formed.
  • 1997: Bing Blanking is founded in partnership with Rouge Industries.
  • 1998: Bing teams with Ford to build a non-profit industrial training center.
  • 2000: Bing sells his stake in the Blanking venture.
  • 2002: Dave Bing leads an initiative to build 40 new homes near the company's headquarters.
  • 2003: The firm announces new acquisition plans and projects $1 billion in sales by 2008.
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