The global tire industry lost an icon April 29 with the death at age 88 of Francois Michelin, the retired head of Group Michelin, the company co-founded in 1889 by his grandfather Edouard and Edouard's brother Andre.
Mr. Michelin spent 47 years leading the tire maker, expanding it from a largely Europe-centric company to a true international concern, in the process taking it from the world's 10th largest tire maker in the early 1960s to No. 1 or No. 2, depending on the year.
His death means not only the loss of one of the industry's great leaders, but symbolically it represents the end of an erathe passing of someone who had paternal ties to the founding fathers of one of the world's major tire companies.
Mr. Michelin wasn't well known to many in the U.S. and North American tire business, outside of those working at Michelin North America Inc.
One of the few times he appeared publicly at an industry function was in 1995 in New Orleans when Edouard and Andre Michelin were inducted posthumously into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame and he accepted the honor on their behalf, or in 2008 when he was recognized by the Tire Industry Association's hall as a historical contributor. But his death still resonates.
Michelin, the company, and Mr. Michelin, the man, are inextricably intertwined, making his death feel more like the loss of a be-loved family member.
While Mr. Michelin may not have been a visible presence in North America, his influence certainly was. It was on his watch that the radial tire got rolling in America, through Ford Motor Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., and the company planted its flag in North America, starting in Canada in 1971 and the U.S. three years later. Today Michelin employs more than 22,000 at 20 plants throughout the continent.
He also was relentless in his passion for innovation, technology and attention to quality, a hallmark of the Michelin culture.
But Mr. Michelin was more than just a savvy business leader driven to increase sales and influence. He also had a very human side. Inside Michelin he was known as le patron, the boss, but with what has been described as paternal overtones.
Francois Michelin tirelessly embodied the values of respect that are the very foundation of our Group's identity, said Jean-Dominique Senard, chief executive officer of Michelin Group.
He was a man of deep Cath-olic faith, believed in the power of the human spirit to succeed and held in high regard the people who worked at Michelin, from the plant floors to the top offices, said Pete Selleck, chairman and president of Michelin North America. He also experienced tragedy in his life, including the loss of his son and successor, Edouard.
The tire industry has produced many great leaders throughout its long history. Mr. Michelin certainly was one of them.