Similar core philosophy
To Ms. Karbowiak, the reason the Bridgestone-Firestone combination has succeeded where other high-profile mergers and acquisitions have failed goes back to what the founders of the companies believed.
Harvey Firestone's mantra — "The best today, still better tomorrow." — was coupled with a commitment to community involvement.
Similarly, she said Mr. Ishibashi's philosophy was that a company focused only on profit is never going to survive long term. To achieve that sustainability, a company must focus on the community in additon to earnings.
Some years ago, that mission was articulated in Bridgestone's motto, "Serving society with superior quality."
"That's the mission that we as a global organization live by today," Ms. Karbowiak said. "You go back to these two founders, and at the heart, these organizations were not dissimilar."
That's not to say that merging Bridgestone and Firestone was easy. Melding two different management styles and deciding how to optimize use of the manufacturing operations were but two issues that had to be resolved.
Then there were such seemingly small details as the differences in naming products and harmonizing code numbers.
"That all takes time and effort and energy," she said. "The languages were different. You have to get over how you are going to communicate. You didn't have instant messaging back then, and you had to create those lines of communication and develop a partnership that really creates the ability to collaborate."
There were also difficulties faced in the Americas that the North American organization was able to overcome because of the stability of the worldwide Bridgestone business.
Chief among those was the long-running labor war, first with the United Rubber Workers union, and then with the United Steelworkers, along with the Ford Explorer/Firestone Wilderness recall early in 2000.
"When one part of the organization may be facing challenges, the other side can support it and provide shareholder value in return," Ms. Karbowiak said.
Bridgestone has made great strides in the past quarter century toward being a global organization, but still is striving to achieve true globalization. One example of the steps made in this area is the $1 billion acquisition of Bandag Inc. in 2007 to offer trucking customers cradle-to-grave service for new truck tires along with retreading services.
That concept, originally strongest in the Americas, is now being adopted worldwide by Bridgestone.
"That's globalizing — that's not just being international," Ms. Karbowiak said. Mr. Tsuya also is focused on ways Bridgestone can optimize operations around the world. That includes creating opportunities for conversation among senior managers across the globe.
Ms. Karbowiak said that most times multinationals tend to look to their home country operations when filling top leadership posts, but many of the executive officers of the parent company aren't Japanese.
Gary Garfield, Bridgestone Americas president and CEO, along with Eduardo Minardi, Bridgestone Americas chief operating officer, are vice presidents and senior officers of Bridgestone Corp. Ms. Karbowiak herself is a vice president and officer of Bridgestone Corp.
Conversely, while the past three leaders of Bridgestone Americas — Mr. Garfield, preceded by Mark Emkes and John Lampe — have been American, a number of Japanese officials serve in key roles with the subsidiary as well.
"Step by step, the thought is expanding into a globalized footprint, but we still have work to do," she said. "The needs of the market keep changing. The globalized response will have to keep changing. Once you have the infrastructure in place to respond on a global basis, it makes it easier. But it's a job that's never done."
Tire industry's top dog
Bridgestone has earned the mantle as the world's top tire maker five years in a row, with its $28.6 billion in 2012 tire sales, besting No. 2 Michelin by more than $2 billion. But it's a title that means more than just numbers, according to Ms. Karbowiak.
"We need to be the world's No. 1 not just in name, but in reality," she said. "It means behaving like the world's No. 1 and being recognized for being the world's No. 1 because of our technology. It is a goal of ours we continue to work toward."
One way Bridgestone is doing that is embracing the concept of "Dan-Totsu," meaning it wants to be identified as the "clear and absolute leader" in all of its industries.
"That is a concept that we as a global organization are embracing and working toward," she said. "Everything we do moves in that direction. It means focusing on the end user as well as our customers in order to ensure we are providing them the kind of experience that they need today and will need in the future."
It forces Bridgestone to go against the tire industry norm of looking inward, Ms. Karbowiak said, and to understand more broadly what's going on in the world and what the firm needs to do to bring those sensibilities to its business.
"The change, the movement, the positive direction is very enterprising," she said. "It's great to be part of an organization that is taking that kind of leadership role and is moving forward."
Bruce Meyer is managing editor of Rubber & Plastics News, where this article first appeared.