General Counsel John Gasparovic stimulates innovation at BorgWarner by adopting the same leadership style as Apple’s famous founder.
By Christine Gatuiria
What kind of car do you drive? Whether it is gasoline, electric or hybrid, take a look under the hood, and you likely will find BorgWarner’s advanced technologies in the engine and transmission system.
With 100-plus years in the automotive industry, BorgWarner is a global technology leader in powertrain solutions. This is one of the factors that drew John Gasparovic to the company.
“BorgWarner is at the forefront of the industry, creating technologies that improve fuel economy, reduce emissions and enhance performance for vehicles around the world,” said Gasparovic, who was recruited in January 2007 and currently serves as Vice President (VP) and General Counsel. “From passenger cars and light trucks to commercial vehicles and construction equipment, our technologies help protect the environment and make vehicles more efficient and fun to drive.”
With a background in litigation and previous industry experience from senior positions at Federal Mogul, Roadway Corporation and Guardian Industries, Gasparovic fit right in at BorgWarner. As General Counsel, his typical workday varies tremendously, keeping the role interesting. BorgWarner has facilities in 57 locations in 19 countries, and more than half of the company’s business is international, so Gasparovic travels frequently.
He hired three lawyers to add more depth in Europe, and works closely with various outside counsel representatives in China and Asia in addition to managing 10 staff members domestically. As a whole, the team focuses on protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights—with 4,200-plus active domestic and foreign patents and patent applications pending, this is no easy task—managing compliance issues and keeping up with the rapid pace of technological innovation within the company and around the world.
Management By Walking Around
Gasparovic takes pride in not being a micromanager; his leadership style is based on Management by Walking Around, or MBWA. “I make the rounds, see what everybody’s doing and see if there is anything I can help with,” Gasparovic said. MBWA is a relatively informal practice, but it has proven to be effective. (Steve Jobs also was a dedicated practitioner.)
Gasparovic personally interacts with his staff and offers guidance and constructive feedback on a daily basis. He also gives his team the freedom to get the job done independently, which motivates them to manage their specific areas of responsibility and come up with solutions without always having to check in. As the company continues to grow, Gasparovic and his staff get satisfaction from seeing how their legal efforts contribute to the overall success of BorgWarner’s business.
The company’s global strides significantly influence Gasparovic’s role as General Counsel, and he is heavily involved in mergers, acquisitions and litigation matters.
But he does not concentrate exclusively on legal issues: He also plays a key role in determining the strategic direction of the company.
“I think about where the company is going and how the Legal Department can help them get there in a more proactive manner,” Gasparovic said. Rather than reacting to things as they happen, he makes plans for the future. For example, he is currently considering implementing a formal communication policy as his team expands into more countries.
As part of the executive management team, Gasparovic constantly is learning new things about the people, the business and the industry. “It’s fun to be part of a successful company,” he said.
It is clear that Gasparovic is motivated and embraces the challenges in his role. His best advice to others starting out or looking to make a career change are simple words of wisdom his father gave him years ago, which he makes a point of embodying: “Do something you like. You have to like what you do, or you won’t be happy.”
Christine Gatuiria is a freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO