PARIS-Tire giant Michelin lost the primary architect of its transformation into a leaner, more globally active company May 26 with the death of CEO Edouard Michelin.
The great-grandson of the company´s co-founder-with whom he shared his first name-died in a boating accident in the Atlantic Ocean off the French Brittany coast. He was 42.
Michel Rollier, co-managing partner with Edouard Michelin since 2005, became the head of the company.
Edouard Michelin was buried May 31 in Clermont-Ferrand, France, home of the tire maker and the Michelin family.
Michelin, son of former managing partner Francois Michelin, had worked for the company since 1985 in a variety of positions-including general manager of manufacturing and truck tire distribution in North America-before being named a managing partner in 1991. He succeeded his father as chairman in 1999.
He is survived by his wife, Cecille, six children, his father, three brothers and two sisters.
The young Michelin is credited with spearheading a number of changes at the company that have helped drive the firm forward, especially in the face of growing international competition.
Among the changes was a restructuring of the company along product lines instead of geographic regions. Parallel to this, he was involved in decisions to expand the tire maker into new and emerging markets in Asia, central and eastern Europe and South America.
One such change was cutting the firm´s work force in 1999-2000 by 7,500. That move was met with vocal opposition by the firm´s labor representatives-especially those in France-but embraced by the financial community because of the potential impact on the bottom line.
Michelin was involved in the company´s decision in 1999 to return to Formula 1 racing competition and had been a guiding force behind Challenge Bibendum, the company´s effort to promote better use of the world´s resources by the vehicle industry.
The firm also adopted a new corporate identity-"Michelin: a better way forward"-during his watch. This tagline was chosen to reflect the tire maker´s vision of impacting society positively.
The most senior executive position at Michelin often is referred to as "patron," a French term meaning literally "head" or "boss." It combines most, if not all, the duties normally associated with the chairman, CEO and president functions.
Born in 1963, Edouard Michelin was the youngest of Francois Michelin´s four sons.
He earned an engineering degree from Ecole Centrale de Paris and joined the family company in 1985 at age 22, spending time in a variety of posts in the fields of research, production and sales.
In 1987 he moved to the U.S. to work at the Michelin Americas Research and Development Center in Greenville, S.C., though he returned to France later that year to serve a year in the French navy, principally in the submarine corps.
Michelin returned to the tire maker in 1988, to take over as production manager at its Puy-en-Velay, France, plant.
He came back to the U.S. in May 1991 as head of Michelin Americas Truck Tires and later that year was named co-managing partner with his father and Rene Zingraff.
During the next two years Michelin served as CEO of Michelin North America Inc., where he was involved in the integration of the BFGoodrich and Uniroyal brands as part of the unit´s overall growth.
In 1993 he headed back to France to work on several international organizational projects before being named CEO in 1999.
Responding to Michelin´s death, Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Nissan Motor Co. and former chairman, president and CEO of Michelin North America, called his "tragic disappearance" a great loss for the automotive industry. "Edouard Michelin was a courageous corporate leader, true to his past and open to the world. He constantly endeavored to balance economic and social constraints and to ensure the continuity of his company."
Ghosn noted that in the years he and Michelin worked together, "he proved a great professional and a man of conviction. The Renault-Nissan Alliance has lost an exceptional partner, one who was always loyal and clear-sighted."
Robert J. Keegan, Goodyear´s chairman and CEO, said the industry "has lost a good friend and a great leader with the tragic and untimely death of Edouard Michelin.
"Not only was Edouard a strong competitor, but also a great collaborator in a variety of initiatives to further the contribution of our industry to society. He was a man of total integrity and, above all, a man who loved his family."
France´s president, Jacques Chirac, hailed his countryman for modernizing the tire maker, "making it a universally recognized French industrial champion."
Jacques Bajer, founder and owner of Tire Systems Engineering Inc. in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and the engineer who worked in the 1960s and ´70s on getting Michelin radials specified original equipment at Ford Motor Co., was "shocked and saddened" by the news of Michelin´s death but said he wasn´t worried about the "future well-being" of the company.
"The philosophy of the company for generations has centered on producing consistently high-quality durable products at the best price for the consumer," Bajer said. "This philosophy-what I call the Michelin DNA-has passed from one generation to another. I´m convinced Michelin will continue to prosper and be innovative in all aspects of business."
Bajer´s work put him in close contact with the Michelin family, and he said Edouard shared his father´s "passion for technology and innovation for tires, and most importantly the process by which tires must be manufactured to be affordable and trouble-free."
The company has established a fund in his honor to assist the families of sailors lost at sea. Contributions from the U.S. may be sent to: Carolina First Bank/ Help Fund for Sailors Lost at Sea (MNA Inc.), 102 South Main St., Greenville, S.C. 29601.
Contributions will be transferred from there to the European fund. Make checks payable to: Help Fund for Sailors Lost at Sea (MNA Inc.).