What glass ceiling?

Jan. 3, 2014

Keiko Brockel took over as president of Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc. two months ago. Her appointment was rare in our industry: Few women have reached that level at a major tire company, subsidiary or otherwise.

She may have been the first when she was named president of Nitto Tire Canada Inc. in January 2011.

Brockel says there is no glass ceiling for women at Nitto. “Traditionally, the tire industry is considered a man’s world, but working at Nitto for the last 5 ½ years, I’ve never felt that way. Five out of my eight managers are women, so women are a majority at Nitto! It really speaks out to the company’s integrity.”

Former Nitto President Tomoshige “Tomo” Mizutani, who was promoted to president of Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas Inc. on Oct. 1, 2013, says Brockel was the obvious choice to replace him.

“Together, we have achieved five straight years of growth, and I am extremely confident in her abilities. She brings solid business knowledge and a wealth of experience to this role.”

Her resume includes working for Canon Business Solutions Inc. as vice president of finance and administration, and Xerox Corp as western region controller. She joined Nitto as chief operating officer in 2008.

I interviewed Brockel at the 2013 Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas in November. Her message was clear: Build on the momentum, and focus on the enthusiasts.

MTD: What are your short-terms goals for the Nitto brand in the United States?

Brockel: Our goals are consistent with what we’ve always been doing, so our objectives and goals remain the same. We recognize that the market is always dynamic, so we want to continue to be nimble and be able to respond to the market quickly.

Obviously, product development is our top priority. We will continue to produce products that our enthusiasts want. Even as we evolve, we will always be “fueled by enthusiasts,” but we are no longer just a niche or specialty provider. We have expanded our product and size offerings in order to reach a broader audience so they can enjoy the Nitto experience, too.

Secondly, we want to continue our innovative brand and product marketing. We’re very proud of our brand presence in the market, and will continue investing in that. We want to reach out to the different social communities and create excitement – and demand -- for our product. We recognize that communicating with those different communities is critical. We credit a lot of our success to that. We now have 5 million Facebook fans. That’s a major milestone for us.

Finally, we will continue to build and grow our organization to support our future sales growth. I think that is going to be a key component. But we have to do it very carefully so as not to lose our culture. Our culture is our secret ingredient. You can’t replicate it; you have to live it to really experience it.

MTD: You remain president of Nitto Tire Canada. How do the Canadian and U.S. aftermarkets differ?

Brockel: They definitely are unique. The population in Canada follows the 10% rule: It is 1/10 the size of the population in the U.S. The major cities are spread out, too, which affects the logistics of shipping the tires. Another difference is Canada’s high dependency on winter tires, partly because of the geography and partly because of legislation. We are definitely working very hard to tap into the enthusiast market in Canada. Also, there is shale oil production in Canada, and our Grappler lines do quite well in that segment. In the U.S., there’s probably more diversity in some of the products.

MTD: Do you plan to add an associate brand to Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc.'s lineup? Are your dealers asking for one?

Brockel: Right now, we’re just focusing on the Nitto brand.

MTD: In addition to the White, Ga., plant, in which overseas facilities are Nitto tires manufactured?

Brockel: Nitto brand tires also are produced in our Sendai and Kuwana factories in Japan. The Nitto tires manufactured in our White, Ga., factory are primarily for the U.S. and Canadian markets, with the Sendai and Kuwana factories providing additional support.

MTD: What new products do you have in development for the U.S. and/or Canadian markets?

Brockel: Our most recent tire is the NT421Q, or the “Q” as we call it. The tire has been designed with some of the features that SUV and CUV owners are looking for, like quality and quietness. It’s more pedestrian, or broad market, than Nitto usually brings to our product lines. It’s just an example of how we’re trying to bring some of our technology and quality design that our Nitto enthusiasts really love to a broader audience. In addition, this is the first winter that our NT90W, which came out last year, will be available. It also has sizes for the CUV market.

MTD: Do you have any plans to introduce a medium truck tire?

Brockel: Not at this time. That’s not something on our list of objectives right now.

MTD: What is the difference between working at Xerox or Canon and Nitto?

Brockel: The big difference is the emotional aspect of the product. Xerox and Canon have great quality products and great technology, and I liken that to Nitto, which is proud of its technology and quality and design. People don’t get emotional about copiers, and typically about tires, either. But we have a very enthusiastic fan base. Our fans send us pictures of a Mud Grappler tattoo on their arm or the Invo pattern shaved on their head. You wouldn’t see that at Canon or Xerox or probably other tire companies. That kind of passion really motivates us to continue producing great products.

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.