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UA Executive of the Year Luncheon Honors Goodyear Chairman and CEO Bob Keegan

MIS 587: Business Intelligence judges listen to a
Goodyear Chairman and CEO Bob Keegan addressed
Eller College and UA friends, talking about
leadership in the corporate world. Click image to
view online slideshow of the UA 2010 Executive of
the Year Luncheon.

Photo by Thomas Veneklasen.

[View online slideshow]

Students mixed and mingled at the annual University of Arizona Executive of the Year Luncheon, which honored Bob Keegan, chairman and CEO of Goodyear, on March 26.

Keegan drew applause for his keynote address, which follows:

Keynote Address by Bob Keegan

I am extremely honored today to be speaking to you as the Eller College of Management’s Executive of the Year.  

When I accepted Dean Portney’s offer to address you today, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reflect specifically on the leadership lessons I’ve learned during my 38 year business career since business school.  Now, admittedly this is “thru my eyes.”  However, given my experience with three major companies, 12 years living outside the U.S. in various countries, and working in a host of different product markets I can assure you that these lessons have been broadly tested. 

Bruce Halle, founder and chairman of the Discount Tire Company, a friend of the University of Arizona and my valuable customer is not able to join this afternoon, but many of his colleagues are here. Seeing them here reminds me that my first meeting with Bruce in January of 2001 provided a good insight into both our leadership styles. I was three months into my Goodyear experience as I arrived for an introductory dinner at the Phoenician with Bruce and several members of his leadership team. In my mind, this would be a great opportunity to hear about our markets from the best independent tire dealer in the business. In Bruce’s mind, I’m sure he saw this as an opportunity to meet the new guy at Goodyear who knew nothing about the tire industry.  So, we met at the Phoenician for cocktails prior to dinner and had a broad-flowing, informative and causal conversation. 

After an hour or so, I noted that this was running quite long for a pre-dinner cocktail and sensed that there was a slight bit of nervous energy amongst Bruce’s team.  Finally, I mentioned that if they were ready I was ready to have dinner.  At that point Bruce said, “Well Bob, we were ready to have dinner a half an hour ago but were waiting for your people to arrive.”  I replied that no one was with me. There were no people. Then I got it! There was no entourage!  Bruce replied that this was certainly a first not only for our company, but for any major company in our industry.  I felt that the best way to have people talk very directly and openly about our business on my initial visit was to do so alone … as the new guy.  I added that I had heard the Discount Tire Company believed in many of the same principles that I did, and therefore I didn’t want nor need an “entourage” to filter information.

Robert Keegan with students before his keynote
Click image to view online slideshow of the
UA 2010 Executive of the Year Luncheon.

Photo by Thomas Veneklasen.

About Robert J. Keegan

Robert J. Keegan is Chairman of the Board, Chief
Executive Officer, and President of The Goodyear Tire &
Rubber Company. He was elected chairman effective July
1, 2003, and chief executive officer Jan. 1, 2003.

Prior to joining Goodyear, Keegan was president of the
Consumer Imaging business and an executive vice
president of Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, N.Y.

Keegan began his Kodak career in 1972 with distribution
and marketing staff assignments in Rochester. He held a
series of positions in finance and marketing in the United
States and Europe before being named general manager
of Kodak New Zealand in 1986. Returning to Rochester in
1987, he was named director of finance for the
Photographic Products Group. In 1990, he was named
general manager of Kodak Spain. In 1991, he was
named general manager of Consumer Imaging for
Kodak's European, Middle Eastern and African Region. In
November 1993, he was elected a corporate vice

In 1995, Keegan left Kodak to join Avery Dennison
Corporation, in Pasadena, Calif., as executive vice
president and global strategy officer.

In July 1997, he returned to Kodak as president of Kodak
Professional and was elected a corporate vice president.
In October 1997, Keegan was appointed president of
Consumer Imaging and elected a senior vice president.
He became an executive vice president of Kodak in
January 2000.

Keegan received a bachelor of science degree in
mathematics from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.,
and an MBA in finance from the University of

Keegan and his wife Lynn have two children.

Bruce commented that he knew right then that we were going to have a very productive relationship – and it’s turned out to be so – in large part because that evening as we shared details about our leadership philosophies, our view of markets and current business conditions, it became clear that in many ways the company I hoped to build at Goodyear would mirror the culture of Discount Tire.  Bruce, I’m proud to say that today the Goodyear culture in many ways looks surprisingly similar to that of Discount.  Thanks for that first meeting.

“Today, I do come with an entourage:  my wife Lynn, Jim and Muffy Boland - Jim is Goodyear’s lead director - and Shirley and Don Peterson.  Shirley is a Goodyear director and she and Don reside here in Tucson.”

Why are leadership . . . and the lessons learned . . . so important to success in today’s business world?

Think about business conditions during the past 18 to 24 months.  As students you have had an incredible opportunity to view the global economic crisis from a laboratory of learning.  Observe the companies that are winning – and those not so fortunate – and draw your own conclusions about what went right and wrong with their plans, their decisions and their leadership.  For those of you already in the business world, you didn’t have the luxury of being on the sidelines in a laboratory of learning.  You had to make some very difficult and critical calls relative to how you were going to handle the unprecedented macro events coming at your businesses in rapid fire succession.  You had to exercise leadership under extremely stressful conditions.  Whether every decision was the perfect decision is irrelevant today – you had to make each of them.  What is relevant is what you took away from the experience to make you and your teams better, stronger and more competitive. Leadership counts!

With regard to leadership, there are many prevailing myths.  For me, I’ll mention two classics:  One, leadership is about I.Q.  My experience does not support this. There are quite simply many other critical factors at play.  Second, leadership capability is innate, that you either have it or you don’t and it’s not a capability that can be nurtured, groomed and developed. Again, my experience provides no support for that conclusion.  Quite the contrary, clearly leadership capability can and should be developed. There are many other persistent myths, and it will be a challenge for you students over time to separate the myths from the reality. I encourage you to do so. 

Let me try to help you by sharing with you this afternoon some personal thoughts about leadership that hopefully will provide you a bit of insight and a bit of inspiration.  I can unequivocally tell you that leadership done right, done consistently, will unlock countless opportunities for you.

It’s imperative at the outset that you recognize that, at its core, Business is a Team Sport!  Business success is driven by team performance, not by individuals.  So, let me briefly talk about my team.  I will tell you that today there is no better team in our industry.

Over the course of my more than 7 years leading Goodyear, we designed a total business transformation out of necessity.  Initially, our company was in a challenging position financially.  We hadn’t introduced a meaningful new product in 10 years.  And our dealers … those who are the front-line advocates of Goodyear to the consumer (like Discount Tire) … didn’t much care for us. (pause) Other than that, things were just fine.  (pause)

So we went to work.  We completely changed our strategy.  We completely transformed our operating capabilities.  And we completely transformed our culture.  How do you accomplish that, you might ask?  Well, the core decision was to completely change our leadership team.  So, the catalyst for our corporate transformation was a leadership transformation.  Within the first two years of becoming the CEO and Chairman I changed 23 of our top 24 leaders.  Was this easy? No.  Was it essential? Yes.  Why? Because we needed core change, deep change in our company. The new team was comprised of a “blend” of people from inside and outside of the company.  We took talented leaders from within the organization and gave them new, broadened responsibility and successfully blended them with outstanding leaders from outside of our industry with experiences and skill sets that we needed to take our business performance . . . and our company . . . to the next level.  In making this dramatic level of change we avoided the collateral damage that many predicted would follow from change of this magnitude. How?  Strong, aspirational leaders were placed in each of the jobs and they meshed as a corporate team.

As you would guess, taking on such a task provided an opportunity to think deeply about what leaders … what package of leadership characteristics ... we needed to succeed. 

As I look at leadership … true transformational leadership ... there is one leadership trait that I have valued for some time that is only now starting to be recognized as an imperative for great leaders – that trait is “courage.” It’s difficult to make big decisions with imperfect information.  The bigger the decision, the more courage required – the courage to not only embrace change, to not only anticipate change, but to ultimately shape change. 

The audience, including UA Provost Meredith Hays,
The audience, including UA Provost Meredith Hay,
enjoys Bob Keegan's address.
Click image to view
online slideshow of the UA 2010 Executive of the
Year Luncheon.

Photo by Thomas Veneklasen.

To drive home this point I’d like to share with you what has proven to be an inspiring quote for my leadership team at Goodyear from President Teddy Roosevelt relative to courage.  My team and I are quite simply evangelical about it!  It’s proven to be “timeless.” One caveat.  Remember this speech was given in 1910 . . . so substitute man or woman where Roosevelt says “man.”  Here goes …

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Let’s look at the quote more closely. . .

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

  • Criticism is in plentiful supply today.
  • We need critics.  Even Roosevelt believed that muckrakers – remember that he popularized the term -- were valuable as long as they knew when to stop raking. 
  • Our tendency today is to be drawn to the loudest critics, the most outrageous, the most extreme.  Now, as it was then, this is ultimately inconsequential noise.
  • Roosevelt would most assuredly be disheartened with the nature of much of today’s public discourse.

The credit belongs to the man/person who is actually in the arena...

  • Being “in the arena” delivers credibility and pragmatic learning – which critics most often lack.
  • Though we may not always see it in a results-driven world, there is honor in participating. Some of my most effective leaders at Goodyear are not at the top of the org chart.  They are participants who “lead from the middle.” They push those ahead of them and pull those behind them.
  • I’m proud of each of the students in the room today who have chosen to play in a difficult, yet exhilarating field, the field of business. 

...whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming...

  • As there is honor in participating there is also value in the struggle.
  • The struggle is its own reward.  You find out about yourself when you struggle, come up short, push yourself to find out what you’re capable of.
  • You find out how capable of learning you are...of growing...of developing.  Success itself – the end product...the bonus, the sales record, whatever – isn’t the validation.  It’s putting yourself through the struggle and personally improving.

...but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause...

  • Passion for your work is critical.
  • In my personal experience, fear and bravery...courage and and despair…often dine at the same table! They are part of the same experience, but to progress you must be willing to take a seat at the table.
  • Notice Roosevelt leads into the end of the quote by saying “spends himself in a worthy cause.”  Not “spends himself in pursuit of a trophy,” or “an executive title.” 
  • Do what you deeply believe to be worthy.

...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

There are many parallels between Teddy Roosevelt’s quote and what we’ve been through at Goodyear the past seven plus years.  And what many of you will encounter in your careers. 

The key is to get comfortable making difficult decisions.  Great leaders do, mediocre leaders never get there.  In the leadership arena, courage to make difficult decisions is the great differentiator that few talk about. 

College namesake Karl Eller, Eller College dean
College namesake Karl Eller, Eller College dean
Paul Portney, Goodyear chairman and CEO Bob
Keegan, and UA president Robert Shelton.
image to view online slideshow of the UA 2010
Executive of the Year Luncheon.

Photo by Thomas Veneklasen.

Allow me now to share several additional reflections on the leadership behaviors that I consistently see from outstanding leaders:

  • Every such leader as a prerequisite has high integrity and is extremely passionate about their business. They all commit to get better, to dig deeper, and to learn more continually than their competitors.
  • Each recognizes that leadership is a non-trivial pursuit.  They’re always striving to become better leaders, looking for new tools, looking for higher impact approaches. 
  • Each seeks challenges, not certainty.  Don’t be hesitant to make decisions that involve risk or uncertainty.  Most people are.  So decisions are often unclear.  Draw on available information, your intuition and your courage when making decisions.  Stay cool.  As a leader you cannot continually be running around with your hair on fire. Be passionate about your business, but make all your decisions unemotionally.  I can assure you that this is an ongoing challenge. 
  • Each is creative and innovative.  They take unpopular positions and decisions.  Why?   Because they have analytically and creatively thought through the risks and the rewards associated with each of these decisions. 
  • Each stays humble and builds outstanding teams.  As I said before, teams get things done, not individuals.  Being the smartest person in the room doesn’t guarantee success.  I always stress that we think it’s better to gather the smartest people into the room to make pivotal decisions. To some of you, “Put your smartest people in the room” seems obvious, right?  Well, most leaders fail to do it.  Why?  Confused by company hierarchy, or limited to internal resources, they unwittingly restrict the debate or more maliciously they simply assemble only those who agree with them. 

A true sign of leadership maturity is the ability to solicit and value contra-opinions.  And when you are part of a team, don’t be hesitant to offer an opposing point of view.  Dissent is healthy and constructive. If your leaders don’t value it – then move on – you’re with the wrong organization. 

  • In my view, what separates outstanding from mediocre leaders often is rather basic: Know what you don’t know; and focus relentlessly on self awareness; use it as a stimulant to self improvement.  You simply cannot stop developing yourself, cannot stop growing.  So, commit to get better, dig deeper, learn more. 
  • Be flexible.  The global business environment is fluid today.  The likely environment you will encounter and hopefully conquer over your careers will be more fluid than you and I can envision today.  So, embrace change.  Drive it.  Shape your markets.  You may think this is easy.  However, my experience screams “many get there intellectually.  Few get there emotionally.”  You will need to do both to lead well. 

Whether you are starting your business career . . . or are well into your career . . . I hope these perspectives on leadership will provide something for you to draw upon.

I’ve had a lot of fun during my business career . . . and I hope that each of you has as much fun and as many lucky breaks during your business career as I’ve had during mine.

Thank you very much for being here – and thank you again for the honor of being selected as the Eller College of Management’s Executive of the Year.  While personally gratifying, it is a recognition that I share equally with every member of my team at Goodyear.

View the 2010 UA Executive of the Year Luncheon online slideshow now.

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