Mr. Taylor acknowledges a sense of urgency, compounded by his mortality. At 72, Mr. Taylor—an engineer who worked at General Motors Corp. before acquiring bankrupt Electric Wheel in Quincy in 1983 and building it into an industry powerhouse through a string of acquisitions—said he plans to give up the CEO title next year while staying on as chairman.
His successor is almost certainly going to be Titan President Paul Reitz, 44, who joined the company as chief financial officer in 2010 from Carmike Cinemas.
This isn't the career climax Mr. Taylor had hoped for at the largest industrial employer in Quincy, a Mississippi River city about 110 miles west of Springfield. But circumstances have careened beyond his control.
Corn prices, fed by bumper crops and slumping demand from export markets, have fallen below $3.30 a bushel, leaving the $7 prices of just three years ago a distant memory. Farm incomes, down 13 percent this year, haven't run so low since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Moline-based Deere, Titan's biggest customer, saw its sales plummet in fiscal 2015 by 20 percent to $28.86 billion.
"For big-ticket tractors and wheels, farmers are finding it easy to put off investment," says Dennis Slater, president of the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, noting that the biggest tractors and combines sell for close to $400,000.
It hasn't helped that the other major market for Titan, mining excavators, which use 12-foot-tall tires that weigh more than 5 tons each, has also been laid low by a commodity price crunch. Or that the strong dollar hurts overseas demand. Or that low-cost competitors have emerged from India and China.
And yet investors in Titan International, which has slashed its worldwide workforce to 6,100 from a high of 9,000, have seen something positive. The stock, trading recently above $10, rose 38 percent in August after the company's latest quarterly results were announced and has almost quadrupled since hitting a low of $2.50 in January.
In an Aug. 4 conference call, Mr. Taylor told shareholders that the farming downturn had bottomed out. He also told analysts: "The order deck, it's nice to see, has increased on our tire side."
Not everybody agrees.
"The ag sector is in a pretty serious recession right now, and we see further declines going into next year," said Lawrence De Maria, an analyst at William Blair.
Still, Wall Street analysts who had worried aloud about Titan's liquidity this year have been silenced as the company has moved to divest a couple of noncore subsidiaries — one producing rubber tracks for tractors (used instead of tires) based in Europe and another reclaiming old tires in Canada and turning the raw product into oil. The track business alone is expected to fetch at least $100 million before year-end, which could pay down some of Titan's $415 million in debt.