AKRON (Dec. 16, 2002) — John Lampe, Bridgestone/Firestone chairman and CEO, has been named the “Rubber Industry Executive of the Year” by Rubber & Plastics News (RPN), a sister publication of Tire Business.
He was chosen because of the leadership he provided in leading the company's rebound from its recall of 14.4 million Firestone tires in 2000 and 2001.
Mr. Lampe took the top spot at BFS in October 2000, when the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker was embrolied in the recall and firestorm of negative publicity. The company survived the controversy and the depressed economy, and is expected to report net income of $70 million for 2002, compared with a loss of $1.67 billion last year.
When Mr. Lampe learned he had been named RPN's top executive of 2002, he was hesitant to accept the honor.
It wasn't that he didn't appreciate winning the award. On the contrary, Mr. Lampe said he was “very humbled” and graciously received the title. However, he was adamant that he didn't want his role in the company's rebound to overshadow any of the hard work done by BFS employees, associates, dealers and customers.
Mr. Lampe said Bridgestone/Firestone rode out the crisis following the firm's August 2000 recall of 14.4 million Firestone Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires—while at the same time maintaining its business—because of its teamwork mentality.
“And I feel that balance, especially around me, helped the company to do what we had to do,” he said. “We had a crisis, and it would have been easy to become so immersed in our problems that we would have neglected to do what we needed to do, but the people in this organization didn't let that happen.”
Because of the company's hard work, Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holding Inc.'s full-year sales and operating income are expected to total $7.6 billion and $190 million, respectively, on target with its August 2002 forecast. Net income is projected at $70 million—up from the August forecast of $50 million and in contrast to 2001's full year $1.67 billion loss, according to the company.
Members of the BFS team and others credit Mr. Lampe's leadership during the last two years as key to pulling the company through tough times.
Larry Morgan, CEO of Clearwater, Fla.-based Morgan Tire & Auto Inc., said Mr. Lampe was the perfect fit for the BFS chairman and CEO job. “No one on earth—inside or outside of that company—could have been a better choice or a better pick than John,” Mr. Morgan said.
Mr. Morgan recalled the 2000 Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Expo, held in Las Vegas, just a few months following the recall announcement.
“There were 1,300 people there and the room was packed, and when John came on stage he received a standing ovation, even though at that time everyone thought the company might land flat on its back,” Mr. Morgan said.
“All customers, especially employees, and even competitors have overwhelming respect and admiration for him because he is a unique combination of a serious businessman who is also a good quality person,” Mr. Morgan said. “And anyone can look at him and see that right off the bat.”
When Mr. Lampe, 53, was named chairman and CEO of BFS in October 2000, the firm was embroiled in the recall and a firestorm of negative publicity. He succeeded BFS CEO Masatoshi Ono, who stepped down and returned to Japan.
Even though times were tough, Mr. Lampe said he didn't have difficulty deciding whether to accept the company's top job.
“There were no surprises. At the time I knew it was going to be extremely difficult, but I also knew that it was something that I couldn't say 'No' to. I love this company,” he said. “It's the only job I've ever had, and I love the people that I work with. I was told that if I didn't do it, I would always regret it.”
The issues surrounding the recall hoisted Mr. Lampe and BFS into the political spotlight. Rep. Barton Gordon (D-Tenn.)—a member of the House of Representatives' Commerce Committee that called for a hearing to gather information about BFS's recall—said there was no real outreach from the firm to participate in the political process prior to that time.
When Mr. Lampe came into the picture, Mr. Gordon said, he seemed to realize the federal government's role and made an effort to understand the issues.
“During that time, he helped there to be a comfort level with Bridgestone/Firestone,” Me. Gordon said. “He was someone that was serious about discovering whatever problems there might be and about helping to correct them.”
John Snider, president of Snider Tire Inc. in Greensboro, N.C., said Mr. Lampe exuded that same comfort level with BFS dealers. “He gave us the real story about what was going on, but at the same time he was a voice of optimism for the future,” Mr. Snider said. “He was honest and he doesn't varnish the truth. He paints a picture for the future with confidence.”
BFS' business looks stronger today than it did two years ago, Mr. Lampe said. The company developed aggressive new products, looked at capital spending and worked hard at stabilizing the Firestone brand, which has shown growth in the last six months.
“And we've had to keep people confident that we're doing the right thing, for the right reasons, and that we do have a bright future,” Mr. Lampe said.
Two years after becoming CEO of BFS, he said he is very glad he has the top executive role at the company.
“I'm glad that I have been able to contribute and that people have been willing to support me and rally around me, and I really don't have any regrets from the standpoint of taking the job,” he said.
Mr. Lampe said there are a couple of decisions that he regrets having had to make.
“They weren't the wrong decisions when I look back, they were the right decisions,” he said. “But it doesn't make it any easier that they were very difficult and painful decisions, especially the closure of the Decatur, (Ill., tire) facility.
“About 1,800 people don't have their great jobs anymore, and that is something that I will have to live with for a long time,” he said.
Mr. Lampe's knack for communication has aided him in his role, he said.
“I took every opportunity I had to address associates and to speak with customers and dealers. I went to all of the retail store manager meetings last year and got to speak with 2,330 retail store managers about our company and products and direction,” he said.
“They (managers) needed to hear it from our CEO,” Mr. Lampe said. “They needed to know that we are as dedicated as they are.”