Lear Corporation, one of the biggest high-tech motor vehicle parts manufacturers in the world, has been present in Morocco since 2003. How would you define the role of Lear’s operations in Morocco within the overall strategy of the company?
Lear decided to move into Morocco in 2002. It took a little while to find the right location and the right opportunity, but what started off small grew into a significant footprint with many factories and 17,000 employees now, making it the largest country by workforce within Lear Europe and Africa. It’s been a fantastic journey for us; a journey that we feel still has many miles left and further potential opportunities to expand. It’s really been a great relationship for us as well. We have tremendous respect for the workers that we’ve managed to hire, attract and train within Morocco. The education system, and everything else that we’re engaging with, shows us that it’s not just a short-term potential here, we really have a long-term future together with Morocco.
Being a global company, how would you assess Morocco’s main competitive advantages in comparison with other countries?
One thing that any business wants is continuity. In the 20 years that we’ve been working with Morocco, we’ve seen great continuity in terms of the country’s industrial mission and business environment. We’ve also seen strong availability of talented workers, which is important: you can’t expand as a company unless you have access to well-educated, enthusiastic and available workers. For us, it’s been a really good experience and Morocco has something that we feel adds up to a very competitive set of conditions which attracts both Lear and other companies.
Lear has built a center of excellence in electrification and autosar (automotive software) platform development in Morocco. What are the goals of this engineering platform?
As you can probably tell from my enthusiasm for Morocco, we don’t just view it as an economically friendly place to do business. Morocco has massive long-term growth potential for Lear and, therefore, being able to invest in research and development (R&D) was very important to us as well. We’ve now started to see—both on the seating side and the electrical side of our activities—that big projects are being run autonomously out of Morocco. Specifically with our autosar platform, we were able to get ahead of the trend here and it will give us a competitive advantage as we move forward looking to expand with our customers. Our customers were very serious about the long term in Morocco, which is again a very strong signal. Specifically, we have the opportunity to use some of the software that we’ve been investing in here for multiple customers—further taking the message out there that we’re here for the long term.
You mentioned the importance of the ability of prepared and sophisticated personnel that you can recruit in Morocco. During the pandemic, there was a change of recruitment pattern from multinational companies, which started to recruit more locally, instead of bringing in external talent. Is that something Lear encourages?
Lear was at the forefront of this—Lear has always believed that local talent is the way to go. Our European operations have been run for 20 years by locals: we want Spain to be run by Spanish staff, the U.K. by British people, and we want Morocco to be run, staffed and controlled by Moroccans—and that’s what we’ve achieved. Since my and Lear’s journey here started 20 years ago, Moroccans have run our activities in the country.
It’s also inevitable that we need them to run our R&D activities. That means working with universities, making sure that all positions, in a large multinational multi-million dollar company, can be staffed by local people, who care about the community and who understand the community better than any expat could do. We look to grow, which gives our people growth opportunities. It’s a lovely thing to see, as we have gone from one to 15 factories here, that Moroccan people can now run multiple sides of our business: people starting in finance can be controllers and the future chief financial officers. It’s a great thing to have achieved. Of course, you can only do that when you have talented and motivated staff. Then that progression can happen. Working with universities and then growing people through our organization, providing the growth for them to be able to meet all of their abilities, is key in that regard.
Your R&D center in Morocco is the only engineering center certified to Automotive Software Process Improvement and Capability Determination level three in Africa. What does that tell us about Lear’s operations in Morocco?
Again, it shows how strong our capabilities are. It shows all of our customers that Morocco is globally competitive in terms of intellectual property, globally competitive in terms of the expectations and the conditions that we aspire to. It’s absolutely comparable with Germany, Spain, anywhere in the world.
“What started off small grew into a significant footprint with many factories and 17,000 employees now, making it the largest country by workforce within Lear Europe and Africa. It’s been a fantastic journey for us; a journey that we feel still has many miles left and further potential opportunities to expand.”
The Moroccan Investment and Development Agency emphasizes the ability of the country to be agile, flexible and to respond immediately to challenges. This was demonstrated during the pandemic, to which Morocco reacted very strongly with its vaccination campaign and quick economic recovery. Do you agree that Morocco is a country which can adapt very easily to new challenges?
I do. I talked earlier about the importance of continuity in terms of the business-government relationship. It’s important that a business knows that they are important to a country or to a region and we’ve always felt that in Morocco. We’re one of the largest employers here, but even when we weren’t, we felt valued. In terms of agility, one of the core strengths of Lear is that we like to be able to move very fast and we think we have built up a competitive advantage by doing so. We’ve experienced many times in our history here where we’ve been able to do things faster with our team in Morocco than we’ve been able to do them in other countries; and that’s huge for us. Even at the moment, with the tragic war in Ukraine, we’ve used the agility of our Morocco business to be able to support our customers. I absolutely agree with you that it’s a core strength of the kingdom, coupled with that continuity of purpose.
The auto industry is experiencing a big transformation toward sustainable mobility, with Morocco being one of its most ardent advocates. How would you assess the impact of this transformation on your activities in Morocco?
Everyone has become more conscious of the importance of stability and sustainability; whether that’s about the talent you can attract or whether it’s about the environmental impact caused by industrial processes, we’re all thinking far more about sustainability and carbon footprints. The moves that Morocco is making and has made to solar power and in other areas can be a competitive advantage for us as we move forward. It’s very much at the forefront of our thinking now. Another thing is that, because of Morocco’s proximity to Europe, it’s a great option in terms of freight, inventory levels, transportation and other issues relating to reducing carbon footprints and increasing long-term sustainability. That’s an advantage for Morocco.
As a seasoned global professional, how do you see Morocco’s position in the future of the automotive industry?
The can-do attitude, the education, the willingness and the enthusiasm of Moroccans will mean that Morocco continues to grow significantly in terms of its contribution to the global automotive industry. It’s one of the best places to do business that we operate in and Lear is determined to be part of its future success as well.