For John Lampe, it's time to stop and smell the roses.
Mr. Lampe, Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.'s chairman, president and CEO for the past three years-and the acknowledged architect of the company's survival and recovery from the effects of the Firestone Wilderness/ATX recalls of 2000/2001-will retire from those posts March 31.
Mr. Lampe, a 30-year veteran of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone, will be succeeded as chairman and CEO by Mark Emkes, currently chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire L.L.C. and a veteran of 27 years with Firestone and BFS.
Mr. Emkes said the top priority for Bridgestone/Firestone now is to make the North American Tire unit profitable, a task that includes completing negotiations for a new labor contract, reshuffling the firm's original equipment product mix and continuing to build good relations with its independent dealers. (See related story on page 1.)
Mr. Lampe, 56, said he is retiring to spend more time with his family. He will remain on the Bridgestone Americas board of directors following his retirement.
``I believe it is time for a change,'' Mr. Lampe told employees via a Webcast, ``and this is an instance of my head over-ruling my heart. While my heart is telling me that I can stay, my head is telling me it is time for a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective and increased energy levels.''
Mr. Lampe took over as the top executive of Bridgestone/Firestone in North America in October 2000 in the midst of the Firestone Wilderness/ATX recalls, stepping into the spotlight as the company's face and voice during Congressional hearings, press conferences and other public forums.
Even though times were tough, Mr. Lampe said in an earlier interview he didn't have difficulty deciding whether to accept the company's top job.
``There were no surprises,'' he said in late 2002 after being named the rubber industry executive of the year by Rubber & Plastics News, a Tire Business sister publication.
``At the time I knew it was going to be extremely difficult,'' he said, ``but I also knew that it was something that I couldn't say `No' to. I love this company. It's the only job I've ever had, and I love the people whom I work with. I was told that if I didn't do it, I would always regret it.''
At that time, he succeeded Masatoshi Ono, who stepped down after seven years at the helm of the company and returned to Japan.
One of Mr. Lampe's first acts was to apologize to the families of all those killed or injured in accidents involving the company's tires. He also initiated an independent investigation into the root cause for the tread separations on the Firestone Wilderness, ATX and ATX II tires mounted principally on Ford Explorers.
Over the ensuing two years, Mr. Lampe crisscrossed the continent many times, visiting the company's dealers and giving them his personal assurance that the company-including the Firestone brand-would survive and recover.
A native of Wellington, Kan., and a graduate of Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kan., and the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird), Mr. Lampe began his career with Firestone Tire in 1973, changing tires and oil at a Firestone retail store in Cincinnati. Later he served in management positions in Denmark, Singapore, Brazil and Costa Rica before returning to the U.S. in 1988 to serve as president of the company's Dayton Tire operations. He took the reins at Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales Co. in February 1995.
Shigeo Watanabe, chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone Corp., lauded Mr. Lampe for ``his tremendous efforts on behalf of Bridgestone Americas,'' saying: ``His belief in treating his associates and business partners with dignity and respect will be his legacy here at Bridgestone Americas, a legacy that we will all respect and cherish.
``John's success, and the success that Bridgestone Americas has enjoyed, can also be traced directly to the trust that his associates, customers and dealers have placed in him, a trust that he has earned during his 30 years with the company.''
Frank Anderson, owner of Frank Anderson Tire Co. in Columbus, Ind., said he's sorry to see Mr. Lampe leave. During the tire maker's commercial dealer meeting last year, Mr. Anderson called Mr. Lampe the ``linchpin'' of Bridgestone/Firestone's recovery and strong relationship with dealers.
``At this point, all I can say is I'm comfortable enough with his decision-making that he wouldn't do it if he didn't think the people who would replace him were competent and ready to go,'' Mr. Anderson told Tire Business.
Mr. Anderson, who began the retail and commercial dealership 33 years ago, believes Mr. Lampe's policies and positive direction will continue under Mr. Emkes.
``That John Lampe picked him as his successor tells me a lot,'' he said.
Chris Wyborny, vice president of 14-outlet BFS dealer Ramona Tire Inc. in Hemet, Calif., said he was surprised at first about Mr. Lampe's announcement. But he later reflected that the executive may be leaving while at the top of his game.
``He's really done what he took the job to do, which is get the company in the right direction,'' Mr. Wyborny said.
He added BFS has become one of the most stable tire manufacturers, and switching from Mr. Lampe to Mr. Emkes should not change that course.
Commenting on the choice of Mr. Emkes as his successor, Mr. Lampe said, ``As our company continues its recovery, I believe that it must be led by an individual who is strong, energetic, enthusiastic, assertive and confident.... (Mr. Emkes) is the right person at the right time for the job, and it is our company's strength that we can promote from within.''
Mr. Emkes, 50, will keep his duties at the North American tire unit while also assuming Mr. Lampe's chairman and CEO duties, Bridgestone Americas said. Prior to being named to the North American Tire posts in September 2002, Mr. Emkes was president of Bridgestone/Firestone Latin American Operations.
Noting that it is ``a privilege and an honor to be succeeding John at this time in the company's history,'' Mr. Emkes said there is ``still a long way to go in our company's recovery plan, (but) our team under John's leadership has laid the groundwork, the basis, for solid business growth in the future.''
While they were adversaries across the bargaining table, John Sellers, United Steelworkers of America (USWA) vice president in charge of the union's Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference, offered congratulations to Mr. Lampe on his career with BFS ``and the role he played in turning around the fortunes of the company's North American operations. We wish him well in his future endeavors.''
In congratulating Mr. Emkes on his new position, Mr. Sellers added that the USWA looks forward to working with him. ``Hopefully, this will be an opportunity for a fresh start in our relationship.''
In a related development, Mr. Lampe will be retiring from Bridgestone's board of directors March 30. Bridgestone will place Mr. Emkes' name in nomination for election to the board of directors at the annual shareholders' meeting in late March 2004.
Other executive changes occurring at the same time are:
Yuji Tomiyasu, formerly director, Americas and European operations, Bridgestone Corp., joins Bridgestone Americas as executive vice president and also will serve as president and vice chairman of Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire. He will assume additional duties as vice chairman and president of Bridgestone Americas on April 1.
Mike Gorey, currently vice president and controller, Bridgestone Americas, and chief financial officer, Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, has been appointed chairman, CEO and president of BFS Diversified Products L.L.C. He also will become executive vice president of Bridgestone Americas effective Feb. 1.
Tire Business Staff Reporter Lisa Aichlmayr contributed to this story.