Kaizaki To Resign As Bridgestone President
The US recall of Firestone tyres has claimed its latest victim, as it has been revealed that Yoichiro Kaizaki, president and CEO of the Bridgestone Corporation in Japan, is about to resign. The resignation is seen as an admission of poor handling of the public relations side of the tyre recall. The recall problem began last August, and from the beginning, Bridgestone/Firestone miscalculated seriously in the public relations stakes.
Firstly, it blamed many of the perceived tyre problems on bad driving and maintenance by motorists which, while probably true, was not a good PR move, then it incensed Ford and other organisations by saying that the recall would happen in stages and would take many months. Only after Ford declared this as “unacceptable” did the Japanese company speed things up by airlifting tyres and upping production in plants outside the USA. Despite this less-than-satisfactory PR performance, it was not until the middle of September that president Kaizaki made his first comment on the crisis, and this was largely because BF Inc’s president, Masatoshi Ono, was reported to have apologised for the deaths blamed on alleged tyre faults when giving evidence before the US Congress.
Mr. Ono has since then been replaced as US CEO by John Lampe. In his first statement, Mr.
Kaizaki promised “to support the Firestone brand with all the resources of the Bridgestone group”. He also adopted an aggressive stance towards Ford, trying to link the Explorer vehicle in with the accidents, and refusing to accept that the problem lay solely with the tyres. Kaizaki’s resignation is seen as an attempt to bolster Bridgestone/Firestone’s image; something which everybody would agree is badly needed.
Analysts have generally approved of Kaizaki’s action, saying that it probably marks the approaching end of the tyre recall. Certainly some restoration of investor confidence is needed urgently, as Bridgestone shares have halved in value since the start of the recall, with some experts predicting that they have not yet bottomed out. Estimates of profits for 2000 were reduced by a hefty 80 per cent.
Mr. Kaizaki is quoted as saying: “I decided on this move to strengthen our management in a rapidly-changing global environment and to win back the trust of our customers and shareholders.” His departure is not the only one, as two executive vice presidents have also resigned.
The person taking over from Mr. Kaizaki is 58-year old Shigeo Watanabe, senior managing director at Bridgestone and who has an engineering background. He is reported as saying: “The most important issue for the Bridgestone group right now is restoration of our brand and regaining trust”, something with which few would disagree.
Mr. Watanabe is expected to take up his new post officially, following ratification at a shareholders’ meeting on March 29th. Although resigning as president, Mr.
Kaizaki will remain as a full-time adviser to the Bridgestone board. It would appear from the initial reaction of some financial analysts and investors in Japan that Mr. Kaizaki has done the right thing to restore confidence among the money people at home.
However, the group badly needs to win back the hearts and minds of customers in the USA who have been affected by the recall. This is a harder thing altogether and it remains to be seen whether Mr. Kaizaki’s resignation will have any effect on attitudes in the US.