SAN DIEGO-As the interview drew to a close, something struck a responsive chord. ``This is a great country...,'' he declared. Animated, eyes widening, Bernd Frangenberg then almost whispered, ``...so let's go get it,'' fist swiping air as if leading a charge of an imaginary brigade.
In a way, he is.
The man charged with leading the ``new'' Continental General Tire Inc. (CGT) into battle with its bigger, perhaps better-armed counterparts doesn't lack enthusiasm. Nor does the new CGT president harbor delusions about the task before a company he calls a ``sleeping giant'' with ``hidden talents'' even its own employees don't recognize.
In meetings around the country last year, General dealers repeatedly told company officials they want, perhaps more than anything, consistency, he said.
The company's mission-a significant one, he acknowledges-is convincing its independent tire dealer customers that consistency is at hand. The firm has changed so much so often, he conceded, its biggest problem is its lost credibility.
The native German speaks confidently, yet almost humbly about how he ``can learn from even the worst performer....I cannot be too proud to not listen to whomever can tell me something (that will) improve my business.''
CGT's dealers have spoken.
Mr. Frangenberg said he has heard them. And listened.
Several weeks ago, he came to CGT's international dealer conference in San Diego preaching that message, reassuring dealers the firm would not formulate a strategy without them, could not move forward without their support.
Throughout a wide-ranging interview with TIRE BUSINESS, the man who also heads CGT's passenger/light truck division spoke of a new era of stability ``right around the corner for General.''
Convinced that CGT ``will easily break even'' in 1995, he lamented the fact that, were it not for the millions of dollars committed last year to the company's anticipated move later this year from Akron to a new headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., CGT would have been in the black in '94.
Mr. Frangenberg believes the company's strengths are many:
``tremendous products''-admitting past problems in the area of quality, ``You'd be surprised at how (low) our warranty costs are now,'' he said. ``You won't hear any complaints from dealers about our passenger, light truck and truck tires'';
``superior technology''-thanks, in part, to a greater cooperation between CGT and its German parent, Continental A.G.; a booming original equipment business that competes ``every day'' with the industry's Michelins, Firestones and Goodyears.
``We have more sleeping talents that need to be woken up,'' he insisted. ``But we haven't done a good enough job (sharing) information within (CGT). That after years of misery, the people in our company are still with us speaks (highly) for them.''
Still, Mr. Frangenberg said, ``I'm not a dreamer.'' CGT does have weaknesses, though, he kidded, ``none come to mind.''
But the firm has ``had to do some catching up,'' he noted. ``Our competition is not standing still-they're moving targets we have to chase. So we have to run double quick....''
Based on dealers' suggestions, CGT decided not to shift strategy again this year, but instead to stick to the promises it made at its 1994 dealer meeting.
No more ``merry-go-round'' in terms of management, save for some ``fine tuning and trimming,'' Mr. Frangenberg vowed. ``We (will) not have the changes dealers could complain about in previous years.''
The tire maker will continue to pare costs, reduce hierarchical levels and unveil new products. But it will stay ``absolutely focused on our current strategy of productivity increases, enhancing service to our customers and long-term growth,'' he said.
Mr. Frangenberg emphasized there is ``no bunker mentality'' at CGT-it has ``absolute autonomy'' from its parent. ``What's new is, we have broken down the functional barriers within General and its mother company.''
However, he stressed that both companies must ``share and exploit'' their synergies.
As Thomas J. Reese, CGT executive vice president and head of its Commercial Division, told trade journalists: ``Conti demands one thing-no surprises. They've been shocked several times in past years. That no longer is the case.''
Mr. Frangenberg concurred.
Though he would not disclose the amount of financial help Conti will give its American unit this year, he admitted CGT ``had credibility problems with the mother company in 1994.
``But whenever we came to them with intelligent projects,...we had no problem getting the money. It just has to be presented in a professional way....
``Conti is most interested in getting General back on the road to profitability again.''
Can CGT be competitive?
``We have to be more responsive, quicker, easier to deal with than the big boys,'' Mr. Frangenberg replied. ``That's where we can compete. But I cannot copy (competitors') strategies-or I'll fail.''
The 54-year-old executive got his start in industry right out of college, spending 16 years with the Ford Motor Co. in various positions throughout Europe.
Prior to coming to Akron last year to lead General Tire's Passenger/LT Division, Mr. Frangenberg served as Continental's vice president in charge of OE, is the former head of Conti's Uniroyal Englebert Reifen GmbH division and has been with the company in various capacities since July 1981.
There will be ``no Gucci approach for the Conti brand anymore,'' he stated.
While Conti has been fully integrated into CGT's sales repertoire, he said before it can be properly marketed, ``we need to have the products''-a problem area for the firm in the past. ``We now realize we cannot go to our dealers to sell (Conti tires) if they don't have the products the market needs.''
Every dealer, he pledged, will get a full range of Continental, General, Hoosier Performance Radial and Semperit lines.
Mr. Frangenberg also predicted CGT's Passenger/LT Division will this year equal the success enjoyed by its now-profitable commercial division sibling.
He also told the trade press CGT ``will give more active support'' to dealers who operate franchising programs.
However, the firm has no plans to introduce a franchise program similar to Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s ``Affiliated Dealer Program,'' he said, because ``independent dealers are our main channel of distribution.''
A self-professed ``hands-on'' manager, the CGT president calls his style ``open door,'' and urged dealers: ``If you have a problem, ring me or walk in my office.
``I make no secret about where we want (the company) to go,'' he continued, ``because I firmly believe, whether it's bad or good news, we have to share it.''