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Goodyear shareholders meeting: a first-hand look at leadership

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By Bob Ulrich

Bob Keegan, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s chairman, CEO and president, stresses leadership every chance he gets. During the Annual Shareholders Meeting, held in Akron, Ohio, earlier today, he continued to drive home its importance.

Since taking over as CEO and then chairman from Sam Gibara in 2003, he has followed what he calls the "seven strategic drivers" of business. The top strategy always centers around leadership.

Did you know that 23 of the 24 executives who reported directly to Keegan when he took over have been replaced? Only Tom Harvie, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary, remains. In 2002, Goodyear lost $1.1 billion on sales of $13.9 billion; in 2005, Goodyear recorded net income of $228 million on record sales of $19.7 billion.

Not surprisingly based on the results, Keegan calls his leadership team the best in the business. "Our leaders are confidently paranoid.... confident of their and their teams' abilities, but paranoid about what's coming next.

"I think this is healthy."

Perhaps the most important announcement at the meeting was the passage of a board-backed proposal requiring the annual election of directors (the terms of all of the company's directors will expire at the 2007 annual meeting). This ties board membership more closely to the performance of the company. It also makes existing leadership more responsible.

While a shareholder was asking questions about policy, all 11 of the board members seated up front turned to listen to the man's comments. It reminded me of the 2001 Goodyear Shareholders Meeting, hosted by Gibara.

As one of the shareholders at that meeting made some contentious comments about Goodyear's leadership, only two of the seated board members turned to face the man. One of them was Keegan.

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