Stanley Gault, who died June 29 at age 90, spent only five years at the helm of Good-year in the early 1990s, but his impact on the company and on the industry was in many ways historic.
Mr. Gault took over the Akron-based tire maker during a difficult time in its history. It was 1991 and North America's largest tire maker was still reeling financially from the failed takeover attempt by corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith five years earlier that had nearly brought the company to its knees.
A marketing whiz with a manufacturing background developed first at General Electric Co. and later as chairman and CEO of Rubbermaid Inc., Mr. Gault helped shift Goodyear from a manufacturing-driven firm to a market-driven, consumer-focused company.
Along the way, the energetic Mr. Gault plucked a unique-looking water-channel tire still in development out of the tire maker's R&D center and turned that productdubbed the Aquatredinto an industry and marketing phenomenon.
He also enhanced the marketing value of the company's fleet of blimps, painting the then-drab-looking gray behemoths to reflect the corporation's well-recognized bright blue and yellow color scheme, in the process turning them into instantly recognizable flying billboards.
For tire dealers and the tire industry, what really stands out about Mr. Gault's career at Good-year is his decision to begin selling the firm's flag-brand tires through mass merchandiser Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s automotive centers.
Until that time, Goodyear had resisted the temptation to add mass merchandisers and warehouse clubs to its distribution scheme, preferring instead to stick with the decades-long practice of selling its flag-brand products only through its independent dealer network, franchise outlets and company-owned stores.
Mr. Gault's move infuriated many in the company's loyal network of tire dealers, who had aligned themselves with the tire maker and were permitted to sell only Goodyear brands.
Now they faced the prospect of competing directly with Sears for many of the same products they previously had sold exclusivelyand they weren't happy.
But Mr. Gault and other Good-year executives recognized the tire world was changing and the company, which had lost 3.2 percent of replacement market share in the U.S. over the previous five years, risked losing even more if it didn't tap into these other distribution channels its competitors were using.
Mr. Gault was integral in this decision, knowing full well it opened the door for Goodyear's own independent dealers to add multiple brands to their offeringsand many did.
It was a move that brought a major change in the tire dealer and supplier relationship that continues to this day.