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On the Rise: Justin Hayes

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Justin Hayes

Consumer tire product manager | Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC | Age: 33

What was your first job in the industry?

My first job at Bridgestone was doing noise analysis and technology development within our passenger and light truck tire development division. I helped to advance some of our technologies for predicting tire performance. Gaining this experience and knowledge about the mechanistic behaviors of tires ultimately gave me the foundation to be successful at Bridgestone and progress into my current role in product management.

What attracted you to the industry?

I studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at Purdue University and was always interested in working in the automotive industry. When I neared graduation and began searching for jobs, it seemed to me that the tire industry was very stable with a low risk of a tech center being moved or outsourced to another country. The financial strength of Bridgestone compared to some of its competitors drew me to look at this company much more closely.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

As a product manager I set the future strategy for our product portfolio. I pay close attention to the rapidly changing technology that is impacting the vehicle landscape. The biggest challenge I have faced is taking this and all of the other industry inputs, interpreting how they will shape and change the future of the tire industry, and then challenging our development groups to meet the correct future needs of the world’s drivers. It is no small task to predict what a driver of a yet-to-be-developed vehicle will want years in the future. This constantly challenges me to think outside of current manufacturing limitations and material property capabilities to envision future solutions, and then do my part to get us there.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I would say that Harvey Firestone, one of the founders of our historic brands, has had one of the biggest influences on my career. Early on in my career I spent a lot of time researching the history of the Firestone brand, the days when Harvey founded and grew the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. into a powerhouse in the industry. His ingenuity, empathy for his employees, and vision for the company were second to none. This continues to serve as an inspiration for me. I am proud to work with one of America's great historic brands, and strive to live up to the legacy that was left by Harvey Firestone.

What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?

Before I am done in product management I will have shaped the future of the entire CUV, SUV, and light truck portion of our portfolio. Given the impact these products have on Bridgestone's future revenue and profitability, it is both challenging and humbling to have had this responsibility and opportunity.

What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?

In 20 years I will have been in the tire industry for 30 years.  Hopefully by then I will be retiring, and starting a second career as an author.

What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?

One of the biggest issues that our industry faces is that tires are a low engagement category. Many drivers don’t understand that so much technology goes into optimizing a tire for a specific application or desired driving benefit. This makes our jobs challenging as we have to work to educate drivers about the importance of their tires, tire maintenance, tire safety, etc.

What’s the one thing you wish someone would have told you before you entered the industry?

Before I entered the tire industry I had no idea that I would be able to incorporate the influence of an entire new generation on a major corporation like Bridgestone. The millennials are a large and quickly rising force in the automobile industry, and in my role I get to analyze their impact, and use that information to shape our future product strategy.

How do you encourage others to enter the industry?

When I speak with engineering students who are nearing graduation I like to tell them about how much of an impact our products have on the performance of the vehicle, and overall experience of the driver. Many people outside of the tire industry think our products are round and black, but the amount of engineering that goes into them is incredible. The impact quality tires can have on the driving experience can’t be overstated. I also like to highlight that tires are one of only a few components on an automobile which have the manufacturers brand visible. As the light truck product manager, I love seeing the Bridgestone and Firestone names on the roadways.  

Tell us about your family.

My wife and I are expecting our first child in August.  It’s a journey my wife and I are excited to be taking.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

When it’s cold out I like to have friends over and make bonfires.  When it’s warm you’ll most likely find me on the trails in a park somewhere.

What keeps you up at night?

We are currently in one of the longest periods of economic growth in U.S. history.  Additionally, government and household financial metrics have continued deteriorating since the previous economic peak in 2007.  I do not think we are very far from the next recession, and based on all of the auto lending metrics, a credit-based recession could have significant ramifications on our industry.  What keeps me up at night is finding ways to keep Bridgestone successful in such an economic climate.

Tell us something about yourself others might not know.

I’m an ultra-marathoner.  In fact, I placed 12th in the men’s division of the 2015 USA Track & Field 100 Mile National Championship.  I completed the 100-mile trail race in 17 hours, 48 minutes and 3 seconds.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Barefoot running on the beach, it’s one of my favorite vacation activities.

Name a talent you wish you had.

Surfing.  I went surfing in Santa Cruz a few years back and had a blast.  If I was good enough to surf the waves on the North Shore of Oahu, that would be a fun talent to have.

What’s your favorite food?

I love sushi.  One of the perks of working for Bridgestone is traveling to Japan and eating fresh sushi.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Thomas Jefferson.  I have tremendous respect for his accomplishments and moral code, given the time and climate that he was living in.

If we took your cell phone away and said it would cost you $1,000 to get it back, how long would you survive until you paid the ransom?

I could last awhile without my phone, in fact, sometimes I like to be unreachable.  My favorite adventure vacations running around remote national park systems are oftentimes in areas without cell phone reception, so typically being disconnected means I’m running up an epic mountain somewhere.

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