AKRON — A shakeup at the top of Goodyear´s North American Tire division won´t have a long-term negative effect, company officials maintain.
Most industry analysts agree but expressed surprise at news that Jonathan Rich was leaving as president of Good-year´s North American Tire operations. That prompted the company to make three other moves, and one analyst suspects it might result in some disruption within the firm´s executive and union ranks.
Rich, 51, resigned on March 14, and Richard Kramer, 43, who had been a Goodyear vice president and chief financial officer, replaced him at the top of the North American Tire division. Kramer will remain chief financial officer of Goodyear until a replacement is found.
Darren Wells takes over as senior vice president of finance and strategy, posts previously held by Kramer. Damon Audia, the assistant treasurer of capital markets, was named vice president and treasurer, replacing Wells.
The announcements were made by the company simultaneously. Rich couldn´t be reached for comment, and Kramer wasn´t available for an interview.
Despite all the moves, the beat goes on at Goodyear, and its business units are running as smoothly as ever, a spokesman said.
The North American Tire unit will continue to be a strong business because Kramer is well-versed in the operation, and during his time as the unit´s chief financial officer, he helped build key platforms that led to the unit´s improvement, Chairman and CEO Robert Keegan said in a news release.
"He knows the business, knows the customers and understands the challenges," Keegan said.
The spokesman said Rich left because he wanted to pursue other leadership options, although he didn´t say what they were. Rich left a job that in 2006 paid $3.4 million, including his base pay and other compensation. Kramer made about $3.9 million last year.
Rich, a key member of the Goodyear executive team since he became president of North American Tire in 2002, has indicated for some time he wants to run a company, the spokesman said.
Saul Ludwig, an analyst with Cleveland-based KeyBanc Capital Markets, agrees, noting Rich decided to take his chances in the marketplace, although his resignation came as a surprise.
The change in presidents at North American Tire "will just cause a ripple with no short-term or long-term effect on Goodyear," he said. "He was a good man who built a great team," and that team will continue to operate the way it has in the past, according to Ludwig.
Ludwig is optimistic about Kramer, whom he described as "a very talented executive (who´s) well respected by both dealers and Wall Street." He said in an investors report that despite Kramer´s lack of operating experience, "we do not think (Goodyear) will miss a beat during this transition."
Another analyst — Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. — had a different take, maintaining the move may set Goodyear back a little.
The North American Tire division was making progress under Rich, and "it´s hard to speculate why this action took place," he said. "I think it shocked the industry — I know I was surprised — and it could cause some disruption in the (company´s) executive and union ranks."
Rich´s experience will be hard to replace, he said, but Kramer seemed like a good choice.