LAS VEGAS Now that Goodyear has regained its financial health, Samir Gibara has set his sights on returning the tire maker to its ``rightful position'' as the world's largest tire and rubber company by the year 2000. Speaking at the company's annual dealer conference in Las Vegas Feb. 8, the newly appointed chief executive officer of Goodyear outlined an aggressive plan that would catapult the Akron firm to No. 1 through expansions, acquisitions and improved efficiencies, and by ``significantly'' widening its lead in its home market of North America.
``Our vision for the year 2000 has Goodyear back at its rightful position as the undisputed world leader of the tire and rubber industry,'' Mr. Gibara told the 2,600 dealers and others.
In North America, ``our mission is to widen the gap over our other two (top) competitors on our home turf,'' he said. ``This is the largest and most competitive market in the world, and the victor in this market eventually will win the battle.''
To succeed in North America, it is essential Goodyear have a strong and successful relationship with its independent dealers, Mr. Gibara said. He assured them of his ``deep personal commitment in affirming that our independent tire dealers are now-and will solidly remain-a primary and critical Goodyear channel of distribution.''
Mr. Gibara said Goodyear will grow in North America by offering improved tire quality and uniformity, faster cycle times for new-product introductions, a strong original equipment presence with automakers, growing replacement market share and increased capital investment in its tire plants.
In the global tire war, Goodyear now ranks third in tire sales and market share behind competitors Groupe Michelin of France and Bridgestone Corp. of Japan.
But these competitors are still paying down huge debt-the result of major acquisitions in the late 1980s and early '90s, he said.
Goodyear, too, suffered severe financial trouble in the later part of that decade, following a hostile takeover attempt in 1986 by financier Sir James Goldsmith.
As the company fought for survival during the following five years, both Michelin and Bridgestone implemented strategies to surpass Goodyear in the global market, Mr. Gibara said.
But under the leadership of Chairman Stanley Gault, Goodyear cut its debt and has regained its former financial might.
Results for 1995 bear this out. Goodyear achieved record income of $611 million on record sales of $13.2 billion. Equally telling, the company's debt-to-total capitalization stood at 32 percent at year-end, less than half the debt percentage in 1991.
With Goodyear's financial house in order, Mr. Gibara thinks the time is right to strike.
``We think we have the financial flexibility now and a window of opportunity that's not going to be open very long, because our competitors are working hard at reducing their debt and regaining their financial flexibility,'' he said.
Mr. Gibara outlined two major goals for Goodyear over the next five years: to become a growth company through quality and innovation; and to become the lowest-cost producer of the three major global tire makers through continuous productivity improvements.
Goodyear also plans to grow through acquisitions in emerging markets, similar to those made recently in China, Poland and India, Mr. Gibara said.
The strategy, he said, is ``to give our major competitors something to worry about in their own back yards,'' diffusing their resources and diluting their efforts in North America. This will ensure Goodyear becomes No. 1 or No. 2 in its core businesses in every major region of the world, Mr. Gibara said.
``We intend to concentrate our acquisition activity in our tire and engineered product divisions and will focus on North America, Europe and the Far East,'' he said.
But any acquisition must add value for shareholders, he said. ``We will not buy sick companies and try to turn them around. We will be looking for companies that are profitable, healthy and able to add value immediately.''