AKRON—It's a new millennium and technological advances like the personal computer have changed our lives, said Patrick W. Rooney, the recently retired chairman and CEO of Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. But one thing will not change, he said: the need to take care of the customer.
That's part of the message Mr. Rooney delivered to an audience of about 200 on April 25 in Akron as keynote speaker of the 19th Annual Tire Science and Technology conference sponsored by the Tire Society.
Mr. Rooney retired on April 28, and he acknowledged this speech was "my last official responsibility" for Cooper.
The majority of Mr. Rooney's address dealt with change and how it has and will influence Cooper and the rest of the tire industry.
But drivers will still "want and expect a tire that is round and gives the consumer a good ride," he said.
"Shortly after our company—Cooper Tire—was established in 1914," Mr. Rooney said, "one of our founders penned a creed which we still live by today. It called for good merchandise, fair play and a square deal."
Customer research done in 1998 as part of the Cooper 21 initiative found today's consumers want exactly the same things, he said.
Previous advances in tire technology—four-ply tires and radials, for example—were less than successful when they first went to market, he said. But he praised the industry's overall performance.
"The tire industry has made significant changes that have contributed to producing a product that is neglected, never serviced but still performs day in and day out," Mr. Rooney said, "a product that is the greatest value to the motoring public that we have ever seen and ever will see."
Mr. Rooney recounted some of the major inventions of the 20th century: the airplane, appliances, radio and television, for example. But as wonderful as these are, Mr. Rooney quoted entertainer Al Jolson's famous line: "Folks, you ain't seen nothing yet."
The rapid rate of change in the future will challenge tire manufacturers to make decisions quickly and correctly, he said. The mantra for the industry has and will be: "How can we make it better, and how can we make it cheaper?"
Mr. Rooney noted that major manufacturers, like tire companies, are facing investor unrest.
"We are now compared on Wall Street to the glamorous `dot-com' stocks, whose profits are unknown, but the hype is great and the expectations are high," he said.
Cooper, Goodyear and other "solid value companies" in the U.S. and around the world are fighting hard to satisfy investors, he said.
Mr. Rooney cataloged the changes Cooper has undergone in the last year to transform itself from a tire company "into a multibillion-dollar tire and automotive products company." Cooper now has 77 manufacturing plants in 13 countries with expected sales of $4 billion this year, he said.
A year ago, the Findlay, Ohio-based company had 12 plants in three countries with sales of about $2 billion.
Mr. Rooney said the goals developed in the Cooper 21 planning process were behind the purchase of Dean Tire Co., the strategic alliance with Pirelli Group, the acquisition of Standard Products Co. and the purchase of Siebe Automotive.
The Standard Products deal included Oliver Rubber Co., and "Oliver enhanced our overall capabilities to expand our business" in the medium truck radial tire market, Mr. Rooney noted.
In the tire business, management and dealers have challenged Cooper to reduce the product introduction timeline, Mr. Rooney said. "Late last year we started talking publicly about our `cp6 initiative'—which stands for concept to production in six months," he said. "We're very close to reaching our goal."
Mr. Rooney also noted the tire industry faces difficult issues like tort laws unfavorable to manufacturers, outdated government regulations and "the necessity as an industry to work together to solve the scrap tire problem."
Resisting change is dangerous to individuals and companies and is "hazardous to one's business health," he said. Mr. Rooney also called on the tire industry to band together to meet challenges.
"Our industry doesn't work together very often," Mr. Rooney said, "but these are certainly industry challenges which must be addressed, if, as an industry, we're going to control the evolution of change within our business and not be a victim of revolutionary change put upon us by others outside."