By Jerry Jordan, Editor
As 2023 comes to a close, so does the final full year of an epic journey for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. President and CEO, Rich Kramer, who will now begin the transition phase into retirement and help to bring on a new leader for one of the most iconic brands in the automotive industry.
In a recent exclusive interview with Kickin’ the Tires, Kramer reflected on his tenure spanning 24 years at Goodyear with 14 years at the helm of the Akron, Ohio-based tire company. As he prepares to pass the torch, he shared insight into his journey, the company’s evolution and the road that lies ahead for him.
For some, the announcement in November that he would be stepping down from the company may have come as a surprise, but Kramer said it was something he and the board of directors had been working on for “quite some time.” The move will allow him to focus on other endeavors and spend some time with his family, something that isn’t always easy while running the largest tire company in the United States and the third largest in the world.
It was clear Kramer’s departure was not just the end of a chapter but the culmination of a meticulously planned succession.
“It’s been a long, great career, but time for me to go do something else as well,” Kramer said, emphasizing the careful planning that he and the board had put in motion. “I’ve been working on that succession planning with our board for quite some time. So, this is sort of the process of bringing that to a culmination.
“Again, we’ve been working on this for quite some time. We’ve had some starts and stops along the way but this is something that our board does as, sort of, part of their governance process of succession planning that we think about these things long-term and then put them into place.”
For Kramer, his path to the top at Goodyear was somewhat unconventional in that he was originally at Price-Waterhouse and made the transition to the tire industry. Although he viewed his time at Price-Waterhouse to be about selling a service, his role at Goodyear was all about selling a product – specifically tires. However, he said in both positions the underlying goal was always about people.
“You have relationships that you need to build inside the company and outside the company. And I found that very similar. If you build the right relationships, if you treat people the right way, if you demonstrate curiosity, if you listen more than you talk, you can learn a lot about anything. And that is how I took what I knew and learned about tires with that curiosity and focus on understanding.”
The Road Ahead For Rich Kramer
First and foremost, the job for Kramer is not over just because he’s announced his pending departure. He said he still has much work left to do, which includes helping to find the person who will fill the void left behind once Kramer closes this chapter of his career.
“What is next is still to be decided but number one, I’m still in my job for a while yet until my replacement is in place and I will work through a transition,” he said. “Then as I told our board and I told our investors, my plan is to run through the tape, deliver our fourth quarter into 2024 and certainly execute on the ‘Goodyear Forward’ plan that we just announced. So, I am all-in and then after that, I will take a breath and see what comes after it.”
As with most people who decide to step away from professional life, Kramer said one key aspect of his future includes family. He didn’t rule out other endeavors but he wants to spend time enjoying not going to the office, attending board meetings or company travel.
“I think one of the things is just spending more time with my wife,” Kramer said. “I have four children and they have all been out of the house for a long period of time. These jobs take quite a lot of time and my wife has been my partner and certainly my biggest supporter going through this. So, it will be nice to spend more time doing some of the things she wants to do, as well. But, you know, I am sure she doesn’t want me home all the time, so I am going to make sure there are some other things out there that I can go do, as well.”
Kramer, who had just presented 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Ryan Blaney, with the coveted Goodyear Gold Car trophy, said he has always been a NASCAR fan and will still be around and participating in the annual presentation has been an honor for him through the years.
Looking Back On The Good Years
“I would tell you that Goodyear is certainly a job, but when you get to know the Goodyear people, the Goodyear customers, the Goodyear culture and the Goodyear mission, it becomes part of who you are and a part of your motivation every day to go to work,” Kramer said. “I love our customers. I love the company. I love our mission and I think that’s the underscore of what’s driven me with my time at the company.”
Kramer said one of the highlights he remembers came from his early years at Goodyear when there was a restructuring and record earnings. But there was also an event later in his career – a corporate acquisition – that reverberated throughout the global tire industry.
“I will tell you, I have seen Goodyear go through, sort of, a big restructuring at the beginning of this century. In the early 2000s, I was in the finance organization at that time,” he said. “We worked the company through a difficult financial period. We took the company to record earnings at that time. And what happened then was the ‘Great Recession’ around 2008, so we had to work our way through that. I was the CFO (chief financial officer) for part of that.
“And in 2010, I became the CEO (chief executive officer) so, sort of, working through the great recession we came out of that in a very strong way. We took the company to another set of record earnings that ended in 2017 when our industry went into another, sort of, recession. Then we went into COVID and now we are coming out of that, again. So, that is a quick view of where we’ve been.”
Kramer said what helped Goodyear propel through the good and bad years over the past two decades has been a continued improvement in leadership and product development. New technological advances in tire manufacturing and determining how tires will need to be adapted for the future needs of the automotive industry are keys to Goodyear’s continued success. Kramer says the company has always tried to be focused on continuing its growth and building for Goodyear’s future.
“If you look at our product line today from where it was when we started this journey, I would tell you it’s in a much better place competitively,” Kramer said. “As an example, in Europe, we have the number one winter tire, the number one all-season tire and the number one summer tire, as rated by a German auto magazine. So, we are very proud of that.
“What’s been really motivating me and the company, let’s say since 2017, has been our migration to emerging mobility. We think about our sight line technology – that is a connected tire – where we can measure not only temperature and pressure but wear and load and now friction and share that information back with vehicle driving systems.”
Kramer said the new systems will allow any vehicle equipped with enhanced autonomous technology to be operated in a safer and more efficient manner, with increased performance and in many cases provide opportunities for increased use. He added that lots of technological changes are ahead but regardless of whether there is a driver behind the wheel of a car or truck, or the vehicle is operated autonomously, there is always a tire connected to the road.
“I’ll say two things, there’s still a tire needed to move a vehicle, so that means, that’s means our business has a great future to it. That’s number one. We are 125 years old this year and we look forward to another 125.
“The second thing I will tell you is that if you go back in time, the invention of the tire, which is, sort of, this rubber envelope filled with air … I always say the inventors got it right because there is still no better way to carry a load and move a vehicle than a tire.”
Explaining that while tire composition, sizes and materials have changed some through the years, the original idea for the tire is still true to the original design.
“The concept of the rubber envelope filled with air, carrying load is still the best way to move things and that’s why our industry and that’s why our industry will be around for a long time,” Kramer said.
Racing And Goodyear’s Timeless NASCAR Partnership
Focusing his attention on the nearly 70-year partnership that Goodyear has developed with NASCAR, Kramer said racing is ingrained in Goodyear’s DNA. It’s a part of the soul of the company, he said, and something no one there takes lightly. As important as NASCAR is, Goodyear’s racing focus extends globally, something that was apparent with its incredible footprint this year at the 24-Hour of Le Mans. Kramer predicted that the same importance to racing would be instilled in whoever is chosen to replace him as CEO.
“I think, you know, the person who succeeds me will certainly appreciate the history and appreciate the role that we play in mobility, whether it’s in new car sales, whether it’s in replacement sales or whether it’s in racing,” Kramer said. “I think that they will appreciate the technology that we get from it, they will appreciate the branding benefit that we get from it, just to name a few. And they’ll realize racing is sort of in the soul and the DNA of Goodyear and I don’t think that my successor can do anything but appreciate that going forward.
“Goodyear and racing will go on for a long time, whether it’s NASCAR, whether it’s WEC, whether it’s a lot of the sports that we are in, we will stay in it for sure.”
Kramer explained the reason Goodyear invests so much in racing is because technology, branding and things the company learns on the track very much equate to what it produces on its retail side.
Kramer emphasizes the vital role of racing in driving innovation, which underscores the significance of trust and reliability in the Goodyear brand.
“The things we learned on the track, we can build those learnings back into the tires that we sell and put on your vehicles,” he said. “It is also about branding and getting Goodyear out there as something that people recognize. If you think about a tire purchase, why is that so important? Tires are purchased every two or three years, so when a person is in the market they are going to think about tires for a short period of time and when you think about them, you have to be top of mind. How do you get to be top of mind?
“By making sure you are doing the right advertising, you’re involved in the right things, you’re on TV, you’re with the (Goodyear) blimp, on football or racing or whatever it might be, that brings the Goodyear brand forward. Racing being a big part of that allows people to know that when it comes time to buy tires, they think about Goodyear, they believe in the quality, they trust our brand, they trust our people at the retail stores or at our partner retail stores – that is what pulls people to Goodyear.
“Thank you for supporting Goodyear, thank you for supporting NASCAR.”
NASCAR representatives share Kramer’s appreciation for the relationship between the two companies and wish him well in his future plans. He was recently presented the Bill France Award by NASCAR Chairman Jim France during the sport’s recent championship ceremonies in Nashville.
In a written response to Kickin’ the Tires regarding Kramer’s retirement, NASCAR stated, “Rich Kramer has been critically important to NASCAR during a period of challenges, change and growth. From Goodyear’s COVID response to help in our return to the racetrack, to the collaboration in the design of the Next Gen race car, to their partnership in bringing NASCAR to the world’s stage at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rich and his team have been extremely valuable partners and friends. NASCAR congratulates Rich on a remarkable career and wishes him the very best.”