On the Rise: Brent Koch
Staff engineer for all-terrain product development | Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. | Age: 31
What was your first job in the industry?
I started as an intern for Goodyear in 2011. I was on-site for installation and commissioning the plant in Pulandian, China. I got a firsthand look at the entire tire-making process, from raw materials to final finish.
What attracted you to the industry?
It’s a combination of a family affair, my grandfather and father both worked for Goodyear, and I’m a little bit of a car nerd. It’s fun to create a product to help people enjoy -- or hate a little less -- their driving experience every time they hop behind the wheel. Once I started, I realized there was an incredible opportunity to build a career and move throughout the organization to gain different experiences. As mobility evolves, whether it’s EVs or air travel or mining trucks the size of a house, the key function of helping move people and material from A-to-B will persist, and Goodyear will be a part of it.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
I’m in the middle of it! I’m the construction development engineer on an amazing team that is creating an exciting, rugged new product. We looked at everything from changes to tire-building platforms, construction, new mold technology and new materials and we came to a final design that will push the performance beyond current products without sacrificing the characteristics that our customers have come to expect from Goodyear. It has been a long road and this team has overcome many hurdles to deliver something we can all be proud of.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
The all-terrain team, and especially my manager and director. Our team is extremely open and collaborative, which is ideal for learning and growing as a younger engineer. We listen for what consumers want and use a performance-driven approach and attack opportunities to deliver on those tasks. My leadership specifically has empowered me to grow in my role and take on more responsibility. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to develop the construction of two impactful new products in a relatively short period, under their guidance. They’ve put careful thought into helping me gain the experiences and knowledge needed to continue to grow and be successful in my career.
What’s your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
Hopefully this answer will be different in a short amount of time, but I’m humbled to have played a small part in the successful startup of two of Goodyear’s newest plants. I did two co-ops in Pulandian, China, assisting with installation and commissioning of equipment and early in my career I was part of a team offering on-site support to release tires for production in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your work day?
I’m currently in product development for North America consumer all-terrain tires. The average day can depend a lot on where in the project life cycle we are. Early on is a heavy dose of aligning performance targets from our marketing team and then creating a construction and tread strategy to achieve those performances. From there, day-to-day work is focused on working in design software, creating test plans, interpreting test data and creating specs to deliver market-leading performance.
What’s one thing you wish someone would have told you before you took your current job?
I would have benefitted from getting the message of embracing progress over perfection. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and that’s not always conducive to being sane. Sometimes it’s best to just take a breath and celebrate the small stuff.
Tell us about your family.
I’m a local kid, both of my parents grew up in Northeast Ohio. My grandfather and father both worked at Goodyear – my grandfather in aerospace, part of what is now Lockheed Martin, and my father started in aerospace and now works for Goodyear. I’m the middle of three kids, with an older brother and younger sister. I live with my girlfriend and our Goldendoodle and Bengal cat!
How do you recover from a bad or stressful day?
Exercise!!! I usually go to the gym to work out and/or take the dog for a walk. Nothing better to bounce back from a tough day than sweating it out and getting some endorphins!
Name one thing you wish the average American better understood about the tire industry.
The complexity of tires: there’s a lot more to them than rubber and a mold. The average consumer tire is somewhere on the order of 40% rubber, and once you get into the nitty gritty of tire construction, it’s a complex puzzle. Creating tires that will perform well in wet conditions, snowy conditions, on hot summer days and also last a reasonable number of miles is not a trivial task.
If you could have lunch with a celebrity, who would it be, and why?
I could rattle off several, but Gregg Popovich would be one of the first. He’s been incredibly successful: the winningest coach in NBA history, coached his teams to five NBA championships, coached the USA Basketball team to an Olympic Gold medal, is an incredible historian, and has a renowned wine cellar. His leadership has stood the test of time, across multiple eras, multiple teams and the consistency with which he has brought people together to achieve greatness is without comparison. He’s authentic and compassionate and I don’t think I’d do much talking, but I’d take as much of his time and wisdom (and wine) as he’d give me.
Name a talent you wish you had.
Playing the piano – I’m extremely envious of people who can play. I don’t have an ounce of musical talent in my body and it is wildly impressive to me.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
Transportation as a whole is in a transformational state and I think keeping up with that, and being ahead of the curve, is critical and exciting. The tire is the interface between the road and the vehicle. As vehicles become more intelligent I think tires have to be a key player – real-time feedback and data collected will be used to ensure optimum performance of the vehicle as a whole. Aside from that, there’s a huge consumer-driven push to create sustainable products and move towards a circular economy. Maintaining performance while transitioning to sustainable materials, and ideally extending the life of tires is crucial to meeting the demands of consumers.
Tell us your biggest pet peeve.
People who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot. Discourteous and lazy. It takes 30 seconds to put it in the corral.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
“Freedom,” by Sebastian Junger. While I didn’t agree with some of its generalizations and conclusions, it was a pertinent, meditative read.
If a tire dealer asked you for advice to find good employees, what would you suggest?
Look at it from a people-first perspective. Be an organization and a leader that people want to work for. We’re all human and have needs that go beyond the workplace. If you build an organization full of driven, authentic and empathetic team players, that’s a good place to start. Technical knowledge and experience can be gained, but culture has to be intentionally nurtured.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
Making a positive impact both at work and in my community.