After retiring as CFO of Detroit-based Pulte Homes Inc. in 2001, Mike Gaber, 49, faced a difficult decision — play golf or get his business engine revving again. He chose the latter, and, while the move returned him to the corporate world as CFO, he now mixes balance sheets with biker rallies.
With two former colleagues from home-builder Pulte and an executive from a favored supplier, Gaber helped found Saxon Motorcycles, a maker of semi-custom bikes based in Casa Grande, Arizona. "Originally, my co-worker at Pulte was interested in buying a Harley-Davidson franchise," says Gaber. "Then we evaluated another motorcycle company to acquire. But [ultimately] we decided that, with what we had learned at Pulte, we could start [a company] from scratch." Although he wasn't a motorcycle enthusiast before the start-up, it didn't take long for him to catch the biking bug. He now rides a Saxon Warlord to work every day.
Gaber takes as much pleasure from crafting the business as his colleagues do from crafting the bikes. Unlike many start-up cycle makers, which are often launched in garages by mechanics who lack business skills, Saxon started out with a business plan and extensive research on competitors and price points. "We introduced process efficiency, controls, and inventory management. All of the things we learned in the home-building business come into play," says Gaber. The flaming paint jobs, however, represent a new element.
But it's not all fun. Gaber finds he is spending a lot more time on the details than he used to. "I don't have the head count I had before," he says. Gaber handles daily human-resource and technical issues that he had delegated at Pulte. But it's a trade-off he is willing to make, especially since test-riding each new motorcycle model counts as part of the job. — Kate O'Sullivan
The Right Part?
At first glance, bankrupt auto-parts maker Delphi Corp. might seem to have made an odd choice for its new CFO in Robert Dellinger, former CFO of Sprint Corp. After all, Dellinger is an industry outsider who has never helped a company through bankruptcy before. "Sprint was in a very different situation from Delphi," says William Power, research analyst for Robert W. Baird.
Others say Dellinger is the right man for the job. "He has definitely demonstrated an ability to drive change and discipline," says Peter McLean, practice leader for Spencer Stuart's financial-officers practice. Dellinger started his career at General Electric and managed finances for both its automotive and plastics divisions before leading the international arm of its Employers Reinsurance Corp. through a major restructuring.
Delphi is currently under fire to renegotiate wages and benefits with its labor union and restructure its cost base. While previous CFO John Sheehan will remain as chief restructuring officer, Dellinger has an enormous job ahead of him, says Mark Oline, managing director for Fitch Ratings. Certainly it will be a long slog; Delphi doesn't expect to emerge from bankruptcy before 2007. — Alix Nyberg Stuart