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Another Good Guy Steps Down

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More than once in my career I’ve been caught in the vapor trail of a tire company CEO entourage, a pack of VP-level brown-nosers who followed their boss around wherever he went. Sometimes with embarrassing results, but that’s another story.

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It’s been a good long time since that’s happened, and we are all the better for it. Today’s tire company chiefs have foregone the presumed trappings of their positions, striking a positive chord with dealers and media alike.

I mention this because we are about to lose another of the real good guys in the biz. Mark Emkes, chairman, president and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Inc., is set to retire as of Feb. 28, closing out a 33-year career with the tiremaker.

Mark had a tough act to follow when he was tapped to lead the tiremaker when John Lampe retired in 2004. It was Lampe, you’ll recall, that led the then Bridgestone/Firestone out of its recall mess and back to profitability and, more importantly, a return to a high level of consumer acceptance.

To his credit, Emkes never tried to “follow” Lampe. Rather he cut his own path, stayed true to his ideals and identity and, as a result, helped the company reach heights it could hardly have imagined, even in 2004.

Mark could certainly do the “CEO thing” when it was required, and he was all business when it was business time. But Mark has always been more at ease just being a regular guy. Over the years, Mark and I burned more than a few hours talking about family, kids, experiences and, occasionally, what was going on in the industry. All that was missing from those conversations were a warm summer’s day, two cozy chairs and a couple of beers.

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While he is still a young guy – and, hey, 33 years isn’t that long a time, now is it? – one might wonder why he’s hanging it up now. But because he is still a young guy, Emkes is smart to get while the getting is good. He has a young family and plenty of outside interests to keep himself occupied. Surely, he will be missed at Bridgestone, and we on the media side will certainly miss his honesty, integrity and lack of pretense. Good luck on the next phase of your life, Mark!

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