The editorial staff of Rubber & Plastics News has been presenting our annual Rubber Industry Executive of the Year award since 1989, making this the 25th year we've given out the honor.
The main criteria used in selecting the winner each year is simple: It goes to an executive at a rubber product maker in North America who led his or her company to success, or helped further the industry.
It's not a lifetime achievement award. But if it were, this year's winner—James Hawk, chairman of Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas Inc. along with president and general manager of its tire manufacturing facility in White, Ga.—certainly would qualify.
He grew up in Akron, the son of a tire builder, when the title “Rubber Capital of the World” still meant something. His 40-year career in the tire industry started as an engineer for General Tire.
He later moved on to manage the GTY Tire joint venture facility in Mount Vernon, Ill., and the Yokohama tire plant in Salem, Va., before Toyo brought him on board to oversee its first manufacturing facility in the U.S.
The Exec of the Year also isn't a “nice guy” award, though Hawk would fit that bill as well. I remember meeting him for the first time in December 2005 when Toyo hosted a lavish celebration for the opening of its factory in White, which featured Toyo's proprietary automated tire production process.
As a journalist, it's often hard to learn anything meaningful at such events. But Hawk invited me to return when the facility was up and running in a more full-scale mode. So when I returned in early 2007, Hawk and his fellow executives were gracious hosts, explaining the operation in detail and showing how this factory could produce tires competitively in North America.
Likewise, the winner of the annual honor doesn't necessarily have to be the type of leader that puts employees first. Once again, however, Hawk scores highly here as well. His belief is that if you provide a safe working environment and set out to create a quality product, productivity will follow.
Of course, Hawk also fits the bill for the main focus of the award. Under his leadership, Toyo has flourished in North America. Its facility in Georgia has been under continual expansion since its inception, growing along with Toyo's success on the continent.
Over the years, our winners have included the leaders of top tire firms along with owners and presidents of small rubber molders, and most everything in between. All have been deserving in their own right, and Hawk is a perfect choice to carry on the tradition of the honor.
Meyer is executive editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at [email protected]