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Published on January 31, 2000

All Goodyear has to do is deliver

Goodyear executives said all the right things to mollify dealers angry about the company's inability to fill orders and supply the right tires last year. At the tire maker's recent dealer meeting in Las Vegas, they outlined a credible plan to refill the tire pipeline and regain dealers' confidence.

Now they've got to make good on their promises.

By admitting they had made mistakes that affected Goodyear's ability to supply tires, its leadership took a huge step in restoring dealers' faith and good will.

Their humility played well in the speeches they delivered.

Chairman Samir Gibara set the right tone in his address by humorously commenting that: "After the disappointing way in which we made products available to you in 1999, I wouldn't be surprised to walk up to this podium, look over the huge hall, and see only about a 50-percent fill rate."

That line drew the largest laugh and applause of the two-day conference. But it also showed he knew what was on dealers' minds.

Mr. Gibara then went on to address the company's other problems, such as its weak financial performance, declining stock price, removal from the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the poor execution of consolidation and rationalization programs.

But he rightly pointed out that Goodyear also had forged an important alliance with Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. giving it control of the Dunlop brand in North America and Europe. The merger is expected to add $2.5 billion to Goodyear's annual sales.

Hopefully, the end result, as he put it, will turn out to be "a lot of short-term pain for long-term gain."

Time will tell, of course.

Bill Sharp, president of the company's North American Tire unit, also gave a detailed plan about how it will supply the extra tires needed to fill dealers' orders. And he rededicated the company's efforts to better serve its tire dealer customers.

It's good to see Goodyear getting back to basics.

Admittedly, the company had a difficult year in 1999. But out of that turmoil may come positive changes.

Tire dealers at the recent dealer conference seemed ready to give their supplier the benefit of the doubt. But they're also taking a wait-and-see attitude about whether the company follows through.

Goodyear has a great opportunity to start the new millennium on better footing. But the tire company must get the right products in dealers hands when they need them. And it needs to listen to its customers and respond to their needs.

If Goodyear does these things, it will emerge from its recent travails a stronger company and better supplier.

If not, it won't lay claim to the title of world's largest tire maker for long.

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