Goodyear CFO Richard Kramer is the new president of the tire maker's North American Tire (NAT) division after Jon Rich resigned March 14 to ``pursue other leadership options.''
A Goodyear spokesman would not specify those options, but he said Mr. Rich, 51, has often indicated his desire to run a company. ``Now is his time to pursue that,'' the spokesman said.
Mr. Kramer, who also is executive vice president, will continue as CFO until Goodyear names a replacement.
``He knows the business, knows the customers and understands the challenges,'' Chairman and CEO Robert Keegan said of Mr. Kramer. ``I believe Rich is the ideal leader to take the North American Tire business to the next level of performance.''
Darren Wells, previously senior vice president, business development and treasurer, will succeed Mr. Kramer as senior vice president of finance and strategy. Mr. Wells will retain his finance responsibilities.
Mr. Keegan in a statement also thanked Mr. Rich for the ``significant contributions that he made in helping to create the foundation for the future success of the North American business.''
Mr. Rich has been a visible member of Goodyear's executive team throughout the firm's turnaround efforts and the recent United Steelworkers (USW) strike, often appearing alongside Mr. Keegan at dealer meetings and composing letters to Goodyear employees during the three-month-long strike late last year. Mr. Rich also was a key member of the leadership team that Mr. Keegan often referenced as an integral part of the firm's turnaround effort.
He joined Goodyear in 2000 and was named president of the chemical division in 2001 before becoming NAT president a year later on the cusp of the turnaround.
Dealers contacted by Tire Business were surprised by his departure, which was effective immediately.
``I was flabbergasted,'' said Jay Huff, president of Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Centers in Hunt Valley, Md. Mr. Huff said he had been told Mr. Rich would be on an incentive trip coming up in April.
Though he also is a key member of the leadership team, Mr. Kramer in the past hasn't had as visible a role to dealers. Besides Mr. Rich and Mr. Keegan, Larry Mason, president of consumer tires, and Jack Winterton, vice president and general manager of channel sales, often gave presentations on Goodyear's efforts during its past few dealer conferences.
Mr. Huff said he doesn't know Mr. Kramer personally, but ``I know the name.''
Don Goodman, store manager at Virginia Tire & Auto in Springfield, Va., isn't very familiar with Mr. Kramer, but said he still believes Goodyear can make a smooth transition. ``They have a good support staff at Goodyear. It'll be like hitting a speed bump.''
Asked if he's concerned this move may be a precursor to other executives leaving, Mr. Huff said he is staying optimistic that others will remain and Goodyear's turnaround will continue.
The dealers contacted by Tire Business also agreed that Mr. Rich had played a major role in the firm's resurgence in recent years. Mr. Huff called him a ``very big advocate'' for Goodyear-a trait that he hopes will rub off on Mr. Rich's successor.
With his background of having worked with Mr. Rich, Mr. Kramer ``probably knows a lot of Rich's philosophy, which I think is good,'' Mr. Huff added.
Though he also isn't familiar with Mr. Kramer, Chris Brazzeal, general manager and vice president of Brazzeal Tire & Service in Tampa, Fla., said he trusts the tire maker's leadership in general.
``(Management has) made some good decisions and put good people in leadership, although there's no guarantee,'' he told Tire Business.
Analyst Saul Ludwig with KeyBanc Capital Markets in Cleveland also is optimistic about Mr. Kramer, whom he described as ``well respected by both dealers and Wall Street.''
``Despite his lack of operating experience, we do not think (Goodyear) will miss a beat during this transition,'' Mr. Ludwig wrote in a note to investors. The analyst also upgraded his recommendation on Goodyear's stock to buy from hold.
John Clark, owner of Clark Tire & Auto Service in Hickory, N.C., said he expects a smooth transition as well. ``Goodyear is in a great position,'' he said. ``Goodyear has a lot of talented people in place and has a talented team to move forward.''
But not everyone is as bullish on the move.
Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., questioned how the move could benefit NAT, especially considering Mr. Rich had led it through some dire times in recent years.
``I think this sets Goodyear back a little,'' he said. ``The North American Tire division was making progress. It's hard to tell why this action took place and it's hard to speculate. I think it shocked the industry so it will cause some disruption in the executive and union ranks.''
Goodyear's stock price fell 31 cents to $27.94 the day Mr. Rich's departure was announced, but it bounced back the next day, later hitting $30 on March 21.
A Goodyear spokesman said Mr. Rich's immediate departure was his choice. ``That's what Jon wanted to do,'' he said.
As of March 22, there have been no announcements of a new position for Mr. Rich.
``It doesn't surprise me (that) he wanted to run a company,'' said Matthew Jensen, president/CEO of Jensen Tire & Auto in Omaha, Neb. ``It was shocking when I heard, but I was not surprised.''
Crain News Service contributed to this report.