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Stan Gault's Designated Driver



New Goodyear CEO Samir Gibara has a tough act to follow

Anyone wondering if Samir F. Gibara can pilot Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. through a hellishly competitive industry might contemplate Gibara's record in leading Goodyear Europe during the stormy early 1990s. When he arrived, General Motors Corp.'s purchasing czar, J. Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, was demanding price cuts from suppliers, and powerhouse Groupe Michelin had already slashed its prices. But Gibara told Lopez he would not supply tires at such low prices--though it meant turning away some $40 million in business. He successfully made up the loss with higher-margin replacement sales.

It would be easy to underestimate the slight, soft-spoken Gibara. But Jacques R. Sardas, a former top Goodyear executive, likens him to the unprepossessing guy in the Western who strolls into a bar and makes quick work of the bullies. "Sam walks in with a very low profile," says Sardas, "and in a very short time, he controls the situation."

Gibara, who became Goodyear's CEO on Jan. 1, now faces his toughest brawl yet. His ambition, he recently proclaimed, is to return Goodyear by 2000 to "its rightful position as the undisputed world leader" of its industry, where it ranks behind Michelin and Japan's Bridgestone Corp. And he must start by proving that Goodyear can prosper without Stanley C. Gault, who retires as chairman on June 30.

Gault, who had retired as Rubbermaid Inc.'s CEO, took the reins in 1991, when Goodyear was staggering under $3.7 billion in debt. He cleaned up the balance sheet, recharged marketing, and delivered 19 consecutive quarters of profit gains while pushing aggressively into China, India, and Poland. Last year, Goodyear withstood a 16% jump in raw-materials costs to post a 7% profit gain, to $611 million, on sales of $13.2 billion, up 7%. The stock shot up 35%. Gault, notes Director William C. Turner, "leaves some very big shoes to fill."

The key credential Gibara brings to the challenge is his experience abroad. Goodyear is pinning most of its hopes for growth on its foreign business, which already contributes 45% of sales and 56% of profits.

Born in Cairo in 1939 to wealthy Lebanese parents, Gibara, who has two sisters, grew up in a cosmopolitan milieu. He spoke French at home but also learned English, Arabic, and some Italian and Greek. His father died when he was eight, and as a teenager, he began helping with the family cotton-growing business. "I had a very strong sense of responsibility when I was very young," he says. In the late 1950s, much of the Gibaras' land was nationalized, and the family later moved to France.

SLIGHT DETOUR. After getting a degree from Cairo University in 1960, Gibara earned a Master's from Harvard business school. He joined Goodyear France right after graduation, working in finance and sales-related posts until 1970, when he went to Goodyear Europe in Brussels. In his next post, Morocco, he turned a profit in four years, well ahead of expectations. Returning to Goodyear France as CEO in 1976, he took on mighty Michelin with an ad campaign, featuring Formula 1 driver Alain Prost, that significantly boosted market share.

In 1981, Gibara quit Goodyear for a marketing post at International Harvester Co. But Harvester was in worse shape than he had realized--he moved too hastily, he says--and after two years, he returned to the helm of Goodyear France. In 1989, he became CEO ef Goodyear Canada and a year later, vice-president in charge of Goodyear Europe.

In 1992, Gault brought Gibara to Akron to write a new strategic plan, then made him acting CFO and later head of the North American Tire unit. Within months of joining Goodyear, Gault says, he saw that Gibara was "a top-notch candidate" for bigger jobs. In recommending Gibara to Goodyear's board as CEO, Gault cited some 17 strong points.

Gibara is so intensely private that he is discomfited by personal questions. "I'm not that famous," he protests. He is devoted to his wife, Salma, and his sisters. In recent years, he has twice taken a week off to be with his widowed sister, Mona, while her teenage son had major surgery.

At work, he's known for planning. Preparing an outdoor press event one spring, he made provisions for rain, sun, or snow. (It snowed.) He demands the same kind of anticipation in all corporate undertakings. Says Sylvain G. Valensi, head of Goodyear Europe: "He doesn't want you to do one step before knowing the second or the third." But he's no micromanager. "I believe in delegating, in trusting people," he says.

As head of North American Tire, Gibara had to scramble to ease tensions with dealers upset by Goodyear's decision to sell its brand through other retailers. Now, he must improve profits in North America, where margins are under pressure. Already, he has consolidated some operations with subsidiary Kelly-Springfield Tire Co.

NEW IMAGE NEEDED. Like Gault, Gibara will pump out new products. He'll probably step up acquisitions. Most of all, he'll expand Goodyear's global presence, taking advantage of low-cost production facilities from Poland to Indonesia to serve established markets, and investing more in Asia and Latin America.

Will all this win back the top spot for Goodyear? Gibara stresses that he won't expand simply "for the sake of size." And Michelin and Bridgestone have similar plans for growth.

Moreover, Gibara must create a new image for Goodyear, which is nearly synonymous with Gault. The only way to deal with that task, he says, "is to be yourself. If I'm going to [try to] be another Stan Gault, I'll fail." It won't be long before he is out from under the legendary CEO's shadow: Gault is not only retiring as chairman but also leaving the board. Then, the well-traveled Gibara can show if those big shoes fit.By Zachary Schiller in AkronReturn to top

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