AKRON (June 5, 2006) — The global tire industry lost two dynamic CEOs in late May—one long since retired and the other with miles of opportunity and life still ahead of him.
John Nevin, the controversial former CEO of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in the late 1970s and 1980s, and Edouard Michelin, the 42-year-old chairman and co-managing partner of Group Michelin, both came to their positions during challenging times in their companies' histories, and both made tough decisions necessary for the long-term survival and success of their respective firms.
Mr. Nevin, who died May 23 at age 79, joined Firestone when it was stumbling from the effects of the Firestone 500 tire recall and hemorrhaging financially.
His job was to save the company, which was nearly bankrupt at the time. He did so by making a series of difficult, painful decisions that involved numerous plant closings—including six at one time—and cutting thousands of jobs.
The former Zenith Radio Corp. CEO was not a popular figure in Akron, where Firestone was based at the time. Many questioned the actions of the strong-willed outsider, who said he did what he had to do to save the company.
The fact that Firestone thrives today as a subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., which bought the firm for a premium in 1988, serves as a testament to the job Mr. Nevin did.
Mr. Michelin's tragic death on May 26 robbed the company, his family and the tire industry of a dynamic leader just coming into his prime.
The son of the company's former managing partner, Francois Michelin, and great-grandson of company co-founder Edouard Michelin, Mr. Michelin energized the French tire maker at a time when it was facing increasing global competition and a corporate culture in need of change.
After becoming chairman in 1999, Mr. Michelin quickly re-structured the tire maker, streamlining both personnel and operations and expanding the firm internationally into new and emerging markets.
From an industry standpoint, Mr. Michelin was considered a visionary in promoting more efficient use of resources in the transportation and mobility fields.
He brought fresh ideas to the forefront and was a guiding force behind Challenge Bibendum, a company-sponsored effort to promote better use of the world's resources by the vehicle industry.
Perhaps his legacy will live on in the corporate identity adopted during his watch—“Michelin: a better way forward”—which was chosen to reflect the firm's vision of impacting society positively.
John Nevin and Edouard Michelin: Two CEOs from different eras who left lasting marks on the industry and will long be remembered.