NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Disruption is generally considered a bad thing, but to Richard J. Kramer, chairman, CEO and president of Goodyear, it can be a blessing.
“Disruption is something that sneaks up on us and has an unexpected impact,” Mr. Kramer said during his Jan. 29 keynote address at the 2016 Goodyear Dealer Conference in National Harbor. “It's something that changes an industry forever.
“It is something that starts very small, which is why we ignore it until it grows into a real competitive threat. Disruption is already here, already in front of us.”
The secret, Mr. Kramer told dealers, is to make disruption work for you—to allow it to change your thinking and embrace the opportunities it brings. He compared the current business situation with standing in the middle of a bridge. The old side is familiar, he said; the new side is foggy and uncertain. But crossing over to the new side is imperative.
“We tend to go back to the toolbox we have to fix the problems in front of us,” he said. “As leaders, it is our job to look ahead. We need to spend time thinking about these changes, and how we will respond to them. “We need to move, or we're going to get passed.”
The technological changes of the past 10 years have been unprecedented in human history, according to Mr. Kramer, noting that a single SmartPhone, for example, has more computing power than a room-sized mainframe computer in the 1980s.
In turn, that has led to new businesses, such as the online vehicle transportation service Uber, that couldn't have been imagined 10 years ago, Mr. Kramer said.
“Uber upended the taxi business in a way they couldn't imagine and didn't see coming,” he said. “Uber demonstrates that the traditional ways of doing things will continue to be challenged.”
That doesn't mean tire dealers shouldn't keep achieving excellence in their core business, Mr. Kramer said.
“Consumers still have to come see you in your stores to install their tires. Nobody is going to take your place as experts.”
But at the same time, according to Mr. Kramer, dealers have to be aware of the changes going on around them.
“Educate yourself on the disruptions going on and how they affect your business,” he said. “You have to be alert to the opportunities driven by these new technologies.”
Then he urged: “Go out and disrupt yourselves a little bit.”
Just going paperless for a week, or reading newspapers online, or paying bills online, for instance, would give dealers some ideas about the possibilities that lie in the new technology, he said.
Some dealers were nervous last year, according to Mr. Kramer, when Goodyear embraced e-commerce—especially when the tire maker announced at its 2015 dealer meeting that it would launch an effort to sell tires direct to consumers via the Internet.
But, he continued, they began to embrace it when they saw how the e-commerce system directed buyers to their nearest Goodyear dealers.
“The value in tires is still the personal service that you provide. Personal contact is only going to become more important as the market changes. My best days are when I get calls from customers praising the good treatment they've received from Good-year.”
For the company to advance, he said both its executives and dealers have to be willing to disrupt themselves.
“When we cross to the other side,” he said, “we're going to find opportunities we couldn't even imagine.”
To reach this reporter: mmoore@ crain.com