New Bridgestone CEO Eyes Profit-Making
Mark Emkes says his top priority as the new chief executive of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. is to make the division he headed the past year turn a profit. As the Nashville-based business continues its turnaround from a devastating tyre recall in 2000, three units are making money. Not Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, which includes tyre manufacturing and sales of wholesale and original equipment. “We’ve made nice progress over the last 12 months, but the goal for 2004-2005 is to make that business profitable,” said Emkes, who will continue heading that division even as he takes over the entire company after John Lampe retires on March 31st.
Lampe, 56, said on Wednesday that it is time for him to step down from the company after 30 years, including the last three as CEO, chairman and president of the American subsidiary of Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp. “My heart is telling me I can stay. My head is telling me it is time for a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective, an increased energy level,” Lampe said. In August 2000, the tyre maker known then as Bridgestone/Firestone recalled 6.5 million tyres after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating hundreds of fatal accidents that were blamed on faulty tires on Ford Explorers that rolled over.
Millions more tyres were recalled, sales plummeted and the Firestone brand appeared doomed. But Lampe led a restructuring and a campaign to regain consumer confidence, agreed to pay millions of dollars to settle lawsuits and returned the company to profitability the year following the recall. Emkes, 50, who has been with the company for 27 years, said he intends to build on Lampe’s work. Emkes said he hopes to renew the company’s nearly century long relationship with Ford “at some point in time.” Ford and the tyre maker blamed one another for the crashes. “I can tell you we’ve agreed to reopen the lines of communication,” he said. Emkes said company officials also are ready to resume contract talks with the Steelworkers, which broke off in November. The union represents about 6,000 employees at eight U.S. plants. “We are all in the same boat. Like a family, once in a while there is a difference of opinion, and when you sit around the table you come up with the solution,” he said.
Emkes joined the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Company as a college class trainee in trade sales, with his first assignment as a store manager in Baytown, Texas. He then joined the international side of the tyre business, spending time in the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Mexico and Brazil. He returned to the U.S. in late 2000 to become president of the company’s Latin American unit before taking the job heading the North American tyre unit.