Leaving on your own terms, having your health and the ability to spend quality time with your family ®“ isn’t that what we’d all like to do when it comes time to retire?
January 7 was a day I was hoping the tire industry wouldn’t see for a number of years. At the ripe young age of 57, John Lampe, chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas Holding, announced his retirement.
John decided to retire for all the right reasons. As he said, it was the right time for him personally, and the right time for his family. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Humble as he is, John surely feels he enjoyed a fulfilling career. Nothing special, nothing out of the norm.
To the rest of the world, though, his was an extraordinary career. What other corporate leader can you think of who started his chairmanship squarely in the fire, hoping someday to at least move back into the frying pan? What other CEO has led such remarkable turnarounds, pulling a major corporation back from the brink and restoring luster to a historic brand that suffered its second major tarnishing in 30 years?
John is quick to point out that it was the company’s loyal dealers and hard-working team that made the difference. And, he’s right; it took a lot of effort and belief from all sides. But he was the one who set the pace. He put himself on the line and did all the things he had to do ®“ and then some. He wasn’t just "making it right." He was remaking it all before our very eyes and creating a case study business students will read over and over.
To John, it was all just part of the job.
Any leader who starts on the ground floor ®“ as John did, changing tires at a company store some 30 years ago ®“ and works his or her way up the corporate ladder to the very top, must be admired. For John, though, the climb was all about the tremendous amount of love he has for what he does, and for those around him.
Consequently, I think his decision to retire was more difficult than he let on, especially at a point in time when BAH was moving forward on all cylinders, and his business life was getting a little easier. Hell, many presidents, CEOs and chairmen are just revving up their careers by the time they turn 57. John’s been there and done that.
As John put it, "While my heart is telling me that I can stay, my head is telling me it is time for a fresh set of eyes." Over the course of his career, he has surely allowed his heart to have equal vote (for all the right reasons) in many business decisions. Why? Because he truly does care about the people those decisions impacted.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet John Lampe, you walk away knowing that he’s the truest person you’ve ever met. Truly honest. Truly interested. Truly caring. Truly humble. You can see this man’s heart in his eyes.
Egos can come into play when it’s time to think about retirement. Some think they still "got it;" some fear the decision because it brings awareness of mortality. John put his ego aside and allowed clear thinking to make the right decision for not only himself but, most importantly, for his wife and children.
Perhaps this kind of thinking is what Bridgestone Corp. saw in the early days of the recall, and why it felt John was the right man. Not days after taking the job, we watched him on national TV going head-to-head with a Congressional committee and the Ford PR machine. We saw him go toe-to-toe with the company’s oldest customer and respond to mountains of allegations. He made numerous "Making It Right" commercials ®“ in English and Spanish ®“ reaching out to a skeptical general public.
He honorably defended his company, its employees and its dealers at every turn. But it was the manner in which he did it that made all the difference. Many had doubts that the Firestone brand, let alone the entire company, could survive. He made believers out of everyone. They understood ®“ and still do ®“ that he was the right man at the right time.
As John noted in his retirement announcement to BAH employees, "Leadership is not so much about ability as it is responsibility." That lesson, if any, is what we all should take away from John’s great career. The leadership team he has left in place is well-seasoned and has worked side-by-side, night and day, through the toughest of times. They clearly understand why it is so critical to be responsible leaders.
Speaking for the entire staff of Tire Review, we’ll miss your presence in our industry, and we wish you and your family all the best. You have Made It Right.