If you asked John Lampe six months ago if he wanted the CEO job at tiremaker Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., he would have jumped at it. But when the company's Japanese management offered it last week, he paused. "There are challenges," Lampe admits.

That's quite the understatement. Since early August the company has been defending the integrity of its management and products following its forced recall of 6.5 million tires on Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles. Government analysis blames failure of the tires, in part, for 101 highway deaths. Lampe's predecessor, Masatoshi Ono, resigned earlier this week in the wake of the debacle.

A 27-year Firestone veteran, Lampe says he'll quickly make several management changes to "break down the castle walls" between departments that may have kept important information about tire failures from becoming apparent sooner. But even as the company struggles to figure out what actually caused Firestone's tires to separate, his biggest task lies ahead: persuading wary consumers and auto manufacturers not to abandon the tarnished brand.

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