People who shaped Goodyear
The first 125 years of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company have featured an impressive timeline of technologies, awards, motorsport wins and innovative products. Today with around 74,000 associates in 57 global facilities, the Goodyear success story is built on talent, innovation and tenacity. Here are just a few of the names who shaped the first century and a quarter of success:
In the 1830s, Charles Goodyear decided to find uses for rubber. Others had used it for shoes and coats, but the rubber melted during the heat of summer. Goodyear believed rubber could be tanned or cured like animal hides. A few years later, he accidentally dropped a piece of sulphur-coated rubber onto the surface of a hot stove, where it charred like leather. The high temperature and short exposure to the heat changed the properties of not only the surface of the treated rubber, but the entire sample. He called the heating process vulcanization after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan.
Charles Goodyear achieved fame as a pioneer, but died before his work was recognised as something that would change the world forever. Thirty-eight years later, a company bearing his name was formed. That 125-year journey begins with the Seiberling brothers in 1898.
Frank and Charles Seiberling
The Seiberling brothers founded The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, with initial capital stock of $100,000 on August 29, 1898. The production of carriage tires, bicycle tires, horseshoe pads and rubber sundries began on November 21. Frank was a visionary, using his natural sales skills to grow the company. Charles was people-focused, earning the title of ‘Akron’s first citizen’ for his belief in business’ duty to support the local community. These guiding principles of both brothers have shaped Goodyear ever since.
Litchfield became Goodyear’s first factory superintendent in 1900. With his commitment to quality and innovation he became the perfect teammate to the Seiberling brothers. He developed the first tubeless tire and created a mindset of winning through being a step ahead of the competition.
Fifteen years later, he became the company’s president. Litchfield believed that to prevent stagnation, business must “constantly renew itself from within.” Litchfield did that for Goodyear by finding better ways to make better tires: first, the straight-side tire in 1905, which could be easily locked and unlocked from the rim; then, the first non-skid tire in 1908; and later, the pneumatic truck tire. While Litchfield was celebrating his 50th anniversary with Goodyear, the company produced its 500 millionth tire. He was the only company employee involved in producing every one.
During World War II, companies like Goodyear had to switch their focus to supporting troops. Thomas was perfectly placed to lead the company through these darkest of times. An Akron-born citizen, he joined Goodyear as a teenager before serving in World War I. He returned to the company, becoming president in 1940, just before the USA engaged in the allied war effort. Goodyear was contracted to produce aviation parts, gas masks, barrage balloons, airships, and tires for tanks, trucks and aeroplanes. The Goodyear Aircraft Corporation was commissioned to build planes, including more than 4,000 Corsairs.
Dove joined Goodyear after serving in World War II, where he became the first African-American research chemist in the rubber industry. He attended the University of Akron and University of Illinois, earning a Master’s degree in Chemistry. His first job was running an elevator in the Akron Headquarters. His promotion was rapid, particularly as others from his university were hired at Goodyear, telling their supervisor that Dove was “smarter than all of us”. He enjoyed a stellar four-decade career until retiring as section head in 1986.
Dove died in 2020, aged 98, but his legacy continues as his daughters are current Goodyear associate Rhonda Harrison and former United States Poet Laureate Rita Dove.
Flory served as head of Goodyear’s research lab from 1943 to 1948 and eventually won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1974. The prize was awarded “for his fundamental achievements, both theoretical and experimental, in the physical chemistry of macromolecules”.
Flory is remembered not only for his groundbreaking insights in chemistry, but also for his humanitarian work defending the rights of scientists working under repressive conditions around the world.
He wrote more than 300 publications covering the breadth of the physical chemistry of polymers, including work in polymerization kinetics and mechanisms, molar mass distribution, solution thermodynamics and hydrodynamics, melt viscosity, glass formation, crystallisation, chain conformation, rubberlike elasticity and liquid crystals.
Gordon T. Smith
Smith had a long tenure with Goodyear, starting his career with the company in 1940 in Wolverhampton, UK as Plant Manager. He went on to work in Luxembourg where he was the Tire Plant Director from 1961-1973, he was also Plant Manager Luxtire from April 1961 and Production Director for Goodyear Benelux from 1964. During his time in Luxembourg, he received various Luxembourg orders of merit and was also awarded honorary citizenship by the city of Ettellbrück. Gordon Smith was responsible for Goodyear Luxembourg for more than 11 years. His tenure included major investments in the plant and the expansion of the Lux Complex with Lux Fabric, Test Track, Luxmold and Luxwire. His contributions in Luxembourg were so profound that the street where all Goodyear facilities are located today is named after him.
Another Akron-area native, Pilliod was a former fighter bomber pilot who returned to Akron in 1966, becoming president and chief operating officer of Goodyear in July 1972 and chief executive officer in January 1974. He retired from the board of directors in October 1986 when President Ronald Reagan appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1992 for his work in transforming Goodyear from a US-centric company to a truly international organisation, most notably in investing in radial tires, increasingly favoured by European car manufacturers.
Gault took the structure built by Mercer to drive a marketing-focused organisation after he was appointed CEO in 1991. He believed that all Goodyear people should be sales-oriented and had the motto of “putting the Go back into Goodyear”. His successes included the innovative Aquatred, increasing traction by up to 20% on wet roads, winning more than a dozen major accolades including Japan’s prestigious ‘Good Product Design Award’.
The choice of Egyptian-born Gibara as president in 1995 truly underlined how the company had become a leading international organisation. With stints in Europe and Africa, he brought a global view to the future growth of Goodyear. The late nineties saw Goodyear expand manufacturing in China, Poland, Slovenia and South Africa through an ambitious programme of investment and acquisition.
While driving Gault’s marketing and commercial focus globally, Gibara also oversaw the introduction of Goodyear’s total quality concept, driving change that is aligned across all business units ranging from manufacturing and distribution to research and development.
Bingham earned the title ‘The First Lady of Goodyear’ for her 47 years of service to the company after being hired as a stenographer upon the first plant’s opening in 1898. She progressed through roles as an assistant purchasing agent and heading up the company’s welfare work, before becoming the director of women’s activities in 1921.
In this position, Bingham created the Wingfoot Girls and Goodyear Garden Club for female associates at the factory, and established basketball and volleyball teams, bridge clubs and a summer camp. The Wingfoot Girls evolved into the Goodyear Women’s Network, which has supported female associates for several decades.
Kramer is the current Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President. His tenure as CEO began in 2010 and is now the second longest in the company’s history. Kramer’s leadership has coincided with dramatic changes in the automotive industry, leading to Goodyear going beyond tires to providing services, tools, analytics and products for the broader mobility industry, including electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and fleets of shared and connected consumer vehicles.
Upon taking over as the chief executive, Kramer was responsible for establishing Goodyear’s Strategy Roadmap, the long-term business vision and plan that is still being executed today. He also spearheaded the construction of new state-of-the-art manufacturing plants and a product development center as well as initiating the acquisition of Cooper Tire & Rubber Company in 2021.
Under Kramer’s leadership, Goodyear has been recognized among Newsweek’s Most Responsible Companies, Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies and Forbes’ World’s Best Regarded Companies. The company regularly appears on annual ‘Top Employer’ lists around the world. Goodyear has earned recognition for its commitment to sustainability and employment of military personnel and people with disabilities. Goodyear also has been named one of America’s most reputable companies and a top company for leaders.