M.G. “Jerry” O’Neil, who ran General Tire & Rubber Co. from 1960 to 1987, died recently at the age of 87. To the best of my knowledge, he was the last of the great family tire barons in the United States. (The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a baron as “a man who possesses great power or influence in some field of activity.”

When his father, company founder William O’Neil, died in 1960, Jerry O’Neil took over as president. He was only 38 at the time.

The company was renamed GenCorp Inc. in 1984, and he remained president until 1987, the same year Continental AG acquired the holding company’s tire division. He stayed on as a member of the board of directors until 1993.

While searching for information on O’Neil in Modern Tire Dealer’s archives, I came across a report about his speech at the 1979 National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association convention in Kansas City, Mo. What he said about the influence of the government and union activity on business sounded awfully familiar to me. Here’s the story from our October 1979 issue.

Calling for businessmen to stand up and be counted, M.G. “Jerry” O’Neil, president of General Tire and Rubber Co., told tire dealers at the NTDRA annual luncheon “at best, as businessmen you are using, or can use, your collective clout -- political and financial -- to change things.”

The things O’Neil wants changed are government and union interference into the running of business. “Congress these days seems to have one approach to problems. Invariably, they seek more power and more control,” O’Neil said. “On what they consider crucial matters, the tone is more ominous till… with reference to nationalization.”

As an example of government harassment, he spoke of the oil companies, and the attack they have been undergoing as a result of their recently published quarterly reports. “The truth is… that the oil industry is not making -- and has not made -- a return as high as the average of other industrial operations.

“The economy doesn’t grow in and of itself. Growth comes from one source: business,” emphasized the General president. But he foresees that source as facing a serious challenge by the federal government. “Apparently, the plan is to see the entire economy stimulated, guided, regulated and fine-tuned by bureaucrats.”

Turning to unions, O’Neil said the country was built to function with a fine balance of power between labor and management, but that balance has been lopsided recently. He views the ability to strike as an awesome power, and in some cases that power can be used to break a company.

“A vociferous union minority can continue a strike indefinitely, and they often get support from tandem and even non-related unions.”

Today, stated O’Neil, the gains which are made by one union are the benefits which the next one expects, regardless of the relative strengths of the industries involved.

“I am quite concerned about the apparent partnership between labor and government. We all know that organized labor commands a lot of votes and that in the political marketplace votes have more purchasing power than money,” warned O’Neil. But he added that only one worker in five is a union member, and that there are over 70 million non-union workers in the country.

“The government and big labor seem to have lost sight of one key fact: Despite legislation, despite labor concessions, the one thing that makes the world go around is the profit and loss system.”

That system is in trouble and needs the help of all businessmen to save it, said O’Neil. “Congress needs a new point of view.”

Déjà vu? You be the judge.

Author

Bob Ulrich
Bob Ulrich

Editor, Retired

Editor Bob Ulrich has earned a reputation as an industry expert thanks to his insightful, in-depth articles and blogs on the tire industry. Before joining Modern Tire Dealer in 1985, Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University. Also, he graduated from the University of Akron School of Law with a J.D.

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Editor Bob Ulrich has earned a reputation as an industry expert thanks to his insightful, in-depth articles and blogs on the tire industry. Before joining Modern Tire Dealer in 1985, Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University. Also, he graduated from the University of Akron School of Law with a J.D.

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