NASHVILLE, Tenn.—"A mentor and a friend to me and to many of us here" is how Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. Chairman and CEO John T. Lampe described his boss, outgoing Bridgestone Corp. President and CEO Yoichiro Kaizaki.
Some observers outside the company, however, were less kind to Mr. Kaizaki, on whose watch the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires occurred.
Mr. Kaizaki's recent resignation is "yet another example of the new Japanese way of doing business," said David Meyer, associate professor of management at the University of Akron School of Business.
Traditionally, when Japanese businesses suffered reverses of fortune, the top management would make public mea culpas and resign, according to Mr. Meyer. Mr. Kaizaki, however, "wouldn't do things the traditional Japanese way, since that would break the stock price and sink the Firestone brand, which they're trying to save," he said.
The resignation of Bridgestone/Firestone Chairman Masatoshi Ono last October was handled similarly, Mr. Meyer noted. Mr. Ono "resigned quietly and took the golden handshake," he said.
Mr. Kaizaki, 67, announced Jan. 11 at company headquarters in Tokyo that he would step down after a shareholder meeting March 29. He will remain with the company in a full-time advisory position.
"I decided on the move to strengthen our management in a rapidly changing global environment and to win back the trust of our customers and shareholders," Mr. Kaizaki said in a prepared statement. He added that he had been scheduled to retire in 2001 anyway, and decided to speed up the process by a few months.
Mr. Kaizaki got the top job at Bridgestone/Firestone in 1991 and was promoted to the leadership of the parent firm two years later. He is widely credited with changing the Nashville-based subsidiary from a money-loser to a money-maker—a process continued by Mr. Ono, his hand-picked successor.
With the announcement of the recall Aug. 9, however, the fortunes of both parent and subsidiary took a downturn. The recall cost Bridgestone $900 million up front—$450 million in charges against earnings, and another $450 million pledged to help Bridgestone/Firestone cover the costs of litigating an estimated more than 200 lawsuits filed to date.
The value of Bridgestone shares has fallen more than 50 percent since the recall began. Meanwhile, it is estimated that Bridgestone/Firestone will lose $500 million this year and another $200 million next year.
However, speaking of Mr. Kaizaki in a prepared statement, Mr. Lampe said: "It was his vision that launched Bridgestone and Bridgestone/Firestone on an unprecedented growth and globalization program that has solidified our company's position as a world leader in rubber and tire design, manufacturing and marketing. It is our responsibility to now further embrace and grow that vision by moving beyond our current situation."
Mr. Lampe also had kind words for Mr. Kaizaki's successor, 58-year-old Shigeo Watanabe, who currently is senior vice president of tire development at Bridgestone.
He called Mr. Watanabe "a strong friend of Bridgestone/Firestone," having worked at the BFS plant in LaVergne, Tenn. in the 1980s. Later, Mr. Watanabe was a member of a senior management team that has provided BFS "with invaluable support and advice," he added.