Culture, innovation key to successful corporate transformation

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NBB_Gary Garfield_2

For more than a century Bridgestone Americas has helped people get where they need to go. And for the last 22 years the organization has been an important part of the thriving Nashville community.

“Our company’s transformation parallels Nashville’s transformation over the past few years,” Gary A. Garfield, CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas Inc. and vice president and senior officer of Bridgestone Corporation, told attendees at the Nashville Business Breakfast in Allen Arena July 23. “The focus has been on transforming the company from an old-line manufacturing company into an organization that performs well financially, is innovative and has a collaborative culture.”

In August 1900, 31-year-old Harvey S. Firestone established the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company with 12 employees in Akron, Ohio. On the other side of the globe in 1931, Shojiro Ishibashi created Bridgestone Tire Company Ltd. (later renamed Bridgestone Corporation). Bridgestone Corporation purchased Firestone in 1988 for $2.6 billion, transforming the companies’ combined operations into the world’s largest tire and rubber company.

As part of its integration with Bridgestone’s existing U.S. operations, Bridgestone/Firestone moved its headquarters from Akron to Nashville in 1992. In recent years, Bridgestone Americas, as the entity is known today, has continued to impact the local economy as it earned almost $31 billion in global sales in 2013.

NBB_Gary Garfield_1Garfield has been with Bridgestone Americas since the organization moved to Nashville. He joined the team as general counsel and in 1995 he was promoted to general counsel for Bridgestone Firestone Tire Sales Company.

In 2002, Garfield was named vice president and general counsel of Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire LLC. In 2007, he accepted the positions of vice president, general counsel, chief compliance officer and secretary of Bridgestone Americas Inc., positions in which he had served in an interim capacity since 2006.

Since March 1, 2010, Garfield has served as CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas Inc. He was elected as vice president and senior officer of Bridgestone Corporation on March 29, 2011.

He said that an organization’s culture is key to its success.

“Peter Drucker was exactly right when he said that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast,’” said Garfield. “If a company’s culture isn’t right, a company can’t reach its full potential for success. As an old-line manufacturing company, we were insular and siloed. Our goal was to transform our culture into one that was collaborative, courageous and transparent.”

Garfield told the group of business leaders that change is “all about the boss.” But the boss isn’t who one might typically think it is.

“I am not the boss,” said Garfield. “Anyone who purchases our goods and services is the boss. It’s about whatever the customer wants. The customer is the boss. We had lost sight of you…the customer…the boss. We had to re-foster that relationship.”

Innovation is another important trait in a healthy organization, he said.

“You can either be behind the curve or you can help drive the innovation,” he said.

Employees are also a valuable asset.

“People make a difference… High performing companies have high performing people,” said Garfield. “You want people who are engaged and who want to be here. And it’s our job to develop them into our organization’s leaders of tomorrow.”

The Bridgestone Americas that has emerged through the last several years of transformation is an organization poised for a strong future, he said.

“We have built a foundation for the company to last another 100 years,” said Garfield. “That’s the biggest responsibility of a leader. To build a strong foundation for those who come after you. It’s been a fun journey, but I believe the best is yet to come.”

The Nashville Business Breakfast is a quarterly networking event, presented by Lipscomb University and the Nashville Business Journal, with a news-conference style format, featuring business leaders with local economic impact. The event is sponsored by PNC Bank and Crowe Horwath.