John Lampe, who began his career changing tires in a Firestone store and ended up guiding the company through one of its darkest periods, said Wednesday he will retire March 31 as chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.
Lampe, 56, will be succeeded by Mark Emkes, 50, CEO of the company's tiremaking unit, Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire LLC.
Lampe stepped in as the first American CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone in 2000 in the midst of its nearly disastrous fight with Ford Motor Co. over allegedly defective Firestone tires on Ford Explorer SUVs.
Facing consumer lawsuits, criticism from some of its customers, and congressional and regulatory scrutiny over what Ford labeled flawed tires, Lampe marshaled the tiremaker into an aggressive defense.
He fired Ford's North American operations as a customer, severing the 100-year history between Firestone and Ford on the verge of Ford's centennial celebration. He blamed Ford for the fatal rollovers being experienced by the Explorer, and asked NHTSA to investigate the vehicle. He shifted marketing attention to Firestone's successful business dealings with General Motors and Honda Motor Co.
At the same time, Lampe ordered the recall of 10 million tires in a program he dubbed "Making it Right," and reorganized the company's North American operations and management.
Industry observers speculated that the Firestone-Ford controversy would be the death of Firestone as consumers deserted from the brand. The ensuing restructuring and tire recall ended up costing the Japanese parent company, Bridgestone Corp., about $2 billion.
But Lampe insisted that he would not abandon Firestone, and that the corporation would resume its growth.
In 2001, the Bridgestone posted losses of $1.67 billion. In 2002, the company saw net profits of $83 million. The company has forecasted similar profits for 2003, which will be announced next month.
Lampe joined the company in 1973, working as a tire-changer and salesman in a Firestone store in Cincinnati. His career consisted of a long list of international assignments. In addition to becoming the first American CEO of the North American subsidiary, he also became the first American to be a director of the Japanese parent corporation.