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Gentex founder Fred Bauer retires as CEO

BY Friday, January 05, 2018 03:42pm

ZEELAND — Gentex Corp. founder, Chairman and CEO Fred Bauer has retired effective Dec. 31, ending a more than 40-year career with the automotive supplier, the company announced today in a regulatory filing.

Bauer founded the company in 1974 as a manufacturer of fire protection equipment. Gentex later entered the automotive industry with electromechanical auto-dimming mirrors. 

During his tenure, Bauer led Gentex as a startup and through its initial public offering in 1981, when the company had a market capitalization of $17 million. Today, the company’s market capitalization is more than $6 billion.

Today, the company is an international Tier 1 supplier of auto-dimming rearview mirrors, automotive electronics and other products.

Gentex’s board named COO Steve Downing to the CEO position effective Jan. 1. Downing has been with the company for 15 years. Additionally, the board unanimously selected lead independent director James Wallace to serve as chairman.

According to SEC filings, Bauer will remain an employee of Gentex for another five years, during which he will have the title of Chairman Emeritus, Founder and Adviser.

“While we all respect Fred’s decision to retire from the CEO and Chairman roles, we are fortunate that the Company will still have access to Fred’s knowledge and wisdom,” Wallace said in a statement. “This next step in Fred’s life has been well earned and his enormous contributions will continue to be remembered for years to come.”

According to Wallace, selecting Downing as the company’s CEO “is a logical next step to maintaining the foundations for success established by Mr. Bauer.”

As part of an ongoing retirement agreement, Gentex will pay Bauer $596,000 this year; $447,000 in both 2019 and 2020; and $298,000 in both 2021 and 2022, according to federal filings. Gentex will also make a retirement payment to Bauer of $2.1 million.

Per the agreement, the company plans to acquire between 5.5 million and 6.4 million of the company’s common stock from Bauer. As this report went to press, the company’s stock was trading at $21.78 per share.

The company also will purchase a building from Bauer for $950,000.

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