As chief financial officer (CFO) for three years, Rich Kramer had a front-row seat for many of Goodyear's financial troubles.
The tire maker struggled with deep losses, high debt, financial restatements and other issues that had some industry watchers predicting bankruptcy.
But now Mr. Kramer has a different view of the 110-year-old company as he wraps up his first year as president of Goodyear's North American Tire (NAT) unit after a string of profitable quarters.
``I had a great understanding of what was going on (as CFO),'' Mr. Kramer told Tire Business this month during an exclusive interview at the company's headquarters. ``But sitting in this chair and actually running the business, you really get... a nuanced appreciation for what you have to do.''
Mr. Kramer was named president of Goodyear's largest business unit in March 2007 after then-NAT President Jon Rich left the firm. Mr. Kramer had been CFO since 2004 and held various other financial positions prior to that. He joined Goodyear in 2000 from PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he had worked for 13 years.
He said he had always enjoyed interacting with customers at PricewaterhouseCoopers and wanted to do more of that at Goodyear plus get more involved with other parts of the business.
``I really enjoy the interaction with the outside, with people, with customers, with building a business,'' he said. ``Certainly working in public accounting is not like selling tires, but the interaction is, and I love the people aspect of it.''
That people aspect indeed is a big function of his new role if only because Mr. Rich had been seen as very connected with dealers during his tenure.
Rick Benton Jr., vice president of sales and marketing for Black's Tire Service, Whiteville, N.C., said in February during Goodyear's annual dealer meeting that Mr. Kramer did have some big shoes to fill, but Mr. Benton said Mr. Kramer has met his expectations.
``That was one of the biggest concerns (when Mr. Rich first left), because you'd be in a room with Jon Rich, he'd be just like anybody else,'' Mr. Benton said. ``Rich Kramer, that's probably his biggest asset.''
Scott Cobb, vice president of American Tire Co. in Murfreesboro, Tenn., also said during the conference that he had admired the job Mr. Rich had done and had similar praise for his successor.
``I think (Mr. Kramer's) done a good job,'' he said. ``We're headed in the right direction.''
Mr. Kramer summed up his direction as head of NAT as figuring out how to increase capability at manufacturing plants to match what the market wants.
``There's so much opportunity out there, the challenge is for us to take advantage of that opportunity,'' he told Tire Business.
At the annual meeting in February, Goodyear officials outlined some of those opportunities, including the upper mid-tier level, which is the target for new Eagle and Assurance tires launched at the meeting.
That level also may hold some potential for Dunlop, Mr. Kramer said, and he wants to get more supply of existing Dunlop lines into that arena.
``We see that there's an opportunity in that part of the market where Dunlop can play very well,'' he said. ``I wouldn't tell you it's a redo of the brand or brand strategy. It's just getting more of the product in there and getting the value propositions out there.''
During the February meeting, Mr. Kramer had alluded to Dunlop's ``vitality'' and a need to analyze the brand's path. Some dealers interviewed by Tire Business at the meeting said they often don't have a clear identity for Dunlop.
Mr. Cobb at American Tire said he's able to sell Dunlop to the high-end performance vehicle crowd, but it has less potential with everyday drivers. When the price point for Dunlop is close to Goodyear, he said, customers opt for the name they know better.
``I would like to see them advertise (Dunlop), but I'm still not going to stock the broadmarket stuff because it's a duplication of the Goodyear line,'' he said.
Mr. Benton said Black's Tire used to be heavy in Dunlop but not so much lately.
``We're interested in getting more involved in Dunlop stuff, but just waiting to see what will happen with that,'' he said.
Mr. Kramer reiterated a commitment to all of Goodyear's brands, including Dunlop, Kelly, Republic and others. In the same vein, he also pointed out that business issues will continue to crop up for the tire maker and its turnaround will never be absolutely complete.
``It's something that I try to continually remind people of, that every morning it's a new day,'' he said. ``When you start the day, by and large, there's no tires sold. And it's very easy to say, `Boy, we're finished with the turnaround and everything's good.'
``I feel like what we've done is taken ourselves from a position of being disadvantaged, whether that was because of the balance sheet or financially, to a point where we are in much better shape to compete going forward.''
In his role, Mr. Kramer said one of the biggest challenges so far has been finding enough time to work with his team members and visit customers. He said his main accomplishments have been continuing to execute the plans that Goodyear has outlined, including closing its Tyler, Texas, plant and recovering from the late 2006 United Steelworkers strike.
``I feel good about having done what we said we were going to do and creating that credibility for the company,'' he said.
Tire Business Staff Reporter and Web coordinator Lisa Hockensmith can be reached at [email protected]