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Rolling with the changes: Bridgestone America's CEO on leadership now

Stock MarketsJan 11, 2021 05:05
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By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As first years on the job go, Paolo Ferrari (NYSE:RACE), president, CEO and COO of Bridgestone Americas, Inc., has certainly had an eventful one.

Ferrari joined the tiremaker in January 2020. Within weeks, he found himself having to navigate a new job and firm amid a rapidly escalating global pandemic.

What helped, the 50-year-old Ferrari said, was keeping his eyes on the rest of the world.

"I have immediate family in Milan and Turin and those parts of Italy were the biggest first clusters after China, so I immediately knew how severe this was," said Ferrari, who is based in Nashville, Tennessee. "As soon as I saw this coming, in February, I got my team together, and we immediately put together a very simple and effective governance to manage this safely."

Before joining Bridgestone, Ferrari held leadership roles in companies spanning a range of industries, from Credit Suisse (SIX:CSGN) First Boston in London and TIM ( Telecom Italia (MI:TLIT)) Group to Pirelli and Ermenegildo Zegna.

Ferrari talked to Reuters about managing through a crisis, sustainability, and the importance of a work ethic. Edited excerpts are below.

Q. What was an early lesson on work?

A. In my neighborhood (in Turin) there were these two clay tennis courts, and there was nobody giving tennis lessons, so I put up a little note in 1985 offering lessons. I was 15.

I got a lot of requests. I made maybe 10,000 lira, which was about $3.50, an hour.

I would get grief from my friends because it was summer. They said, "Let's hang out! Why are you working?" I could have given up, but it was in my DNA to be like: "You have a commitment, you're doing a good job, these people are counting on you."

The lesson I learned was about leadership and going in your own direction.

Q. What are you priorities for Bridgestone?

A. Sustainability is very high. The company that only seeks profit will never thrive.

My goal is to rally the company around creating services and products with more sustainable solutions. For example, designing tires that have very, very low rolling resistance, and therefore there's less drag and less fuel consumption.

Also, the sensor and data component of a tire - all of this data can help drivers or fleet managers optimize performance of the vehicle and be more efficient, more productive. And designing tires that can be retreaded multiple times over a lifetime.

Q. What is your work mantra?

A. Once, a mentor said to me, "Life is a marathon."

I like to say, "A marathon seems too long but maybe life is a half-marathon with some sprints."

Be ambitious, sure, but don't rush it. Make sure that whatever you do you, you are creating value and equity.

Q. What was your toughest job - and what did you learn from it?

A. When I first joined the tire industry in late 2011 (at Pirelli), I didn't know anything about the tire industry. It was a tough transition.

The lesson I learned was that it's about being humble. I learned about product. I sat down with customers, learned from them, and eventually I gained respect from the team.

Q. What's your workday been like in this pandemic?

A. There was a movie with Hugh Grant, "About a Boy," where he said at one point that his life was like the TV guide - it was made of half-hour slots.

That's been my day. I have the one-hour meetings but then maybe there's a half an hour break, with no commute.

In that time, I ask, "Can you put in a speedy workout in that half an hour?" Yes you can. "Can I go sit outside and just get some sun?" Yes. I've never been so tan outside of my time in my Sardinia (summer home). In blocks of half an hour, I have work, family, workouts and downtime.

Q. What permanent impact will 2020 have on work?

A. The chance for recalibration has been huge this year, and my new life after COVID will be slightly different from before. Pre-COVID, every day outside of the house I would be in the office or traveling - I would take a flight across the world for half a day just for a meeting and then come back.

We're not going to go back to that. I think a typical week may be two days in the office, a couple of days at home, and some days traveling.


Rolling with the changes: Bridgestone America's CEO on leadership now

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