Continental Tire North America (CTNA) Inc.'s self-proclaimed ``fix-it guy'' is gone.
Ulrich Wellen, president for the past year, has left the company at his own request to pursue other professional activities, CTNA announced.
Effective immediately, Martien de Louw, 56, has become president and chief executive officer and head of the Charlotte-based tire maker's passenger/light truck replacement business unit. In addition, Mr. de Louw will continue to function as a board member of CTNA's German parent, Continental A.G., with responsibility for the passenger tire division worldwide.
A native of The Netherlands, Mr. de Louw joined CTNA from DAF Trucks, a subsidiary of the Paccar Group in Seattle, where he had been a board member in charge of DAF truck development and held a seat on the board of management of the Paccar Group. He joined DAF in 1972 following stints at Group Michelin in Germany and France and at Philips Netherlands. Mr. de Louw has an academic background in machine engineering.
Last December, Mr. de Louw was appointed to Continental's executive board, effective Feb. 1, with responsibility for the passenger tire division, succeeding Conti Chairman Manfred Wennemer, who had overseen the division. However, Conti said Mr. de Louw would be based in Charlotte.
In January 2002, Continental revamped its tire division's corporate structure into two global reporting units-one for passenger/light truck and one for commercial tires. At that time Mr. Wellen, 43, a chemist by trade, replaced CTNA president and CEO Bernd Frangenberg, who retired last spring after holding that post for more than eight years. Mr. Wellen took over leadership of a company that had limped through 2001, finishing that year in the red.
During the company's 2002 dealer meeting, held in Hawaii, Mr. Wellen described CTNA as a ``permanent loss maker for the past three years,'' and stated: ``This is not acceptable-a turnaround strategy is needed.'' The company's vision, he said, is to be its dealers' ``leading tire supplier.''
By accomplishing that, Conti would in turn make its customers successful as well as create value for stakeholders ``by capitalizing on our global tire technology leadership position.''
At the time, Mr. Wellen told Tire Business that although the task of turning around the company was indeed difficult, he believed he could accomplish that goal within two years, describing himself as a ``fix-it guy.''
The former vice president of Continental's worldwide original equipment car tire sales unit, he joined CTNA April 1, 2001, as its first-ever chief operating officer.
Some of the weaknesses he cited at CTNA included lagging fill rates and ``confusion'' about the brands the company markets-especially the Continental line. Despite his optimistic views on the unit's future at the time, during a wide-ranging interview he somewhat surprisingly called himself ``rather pessimistic. I like to dwell on worst-case scenarios, then be surprised by positive results-not the other way around.'' And he insisted he was ``never satisfied.''
Conceding that might be a personal weakness, he said, ``people ask why I don't celebrate my successes. But success gets boring. I'm always searching for the next challenge.''
Deciding to take over CTNA's top post was a ``hard decision,'' he said, because he had preferred to stay in his previous position in Europe for a couple more years. Yet once he moved stateside, he admitted he was glad he took the job.
Nonetheless, Mr. Wellen had acknowledged that he's ``not a suicide commander-I want to stay on the job and go to the next step.'' And he hoped the company's fortunes would improve, adding: ``We need a little bit of luck and, of course, the support of the dealers. If they don't like us anymore, it's over.''
Mr. Wellen's exit from the company was marked with mixed results. Last November, Continental A.G. reported improved operating and net earnings for the nine months ended Sept. 30, and anticipated a slight increase in sales for fiscal 2002. Although it did not elaborate on losses in North America, the company did say ``unsatisfactory'' tire business earnings in North America would force it to amortize CTNA's remaining goodwill of $47 million.
But a report by Morgan Stanley Equity Research stated that CTNA's loss was $27.4 million for the third quarter and $80.4 million for the nine months.
CTNA expects to report results for 2002 within the next few weeks.
However, under Mr. Wellen's watch the company touted the snagging of its first-ever college bowl game-dubbed the Continental Tire Bowl. Held Dec. 28 in Charlotte and nationally televised, CTNA used the event to generate greater exposure for the Continental tire brand.
CTNA has almost 9,000 employees, including about 2,000 in Charlotte. It operates plants in Bryan, Ohio; Charlotte; Mayfield, Ky.; Mt. Vernon, Ill.; Barnesville, Ga.; and San Luis Potosi, Mexico. A supplier to the original equipment and replacement tire markets, the company sells Continental, General, Euzkadi and a number of private brands.