GREENBACK, Tenn.—Ian Smith, CEO of Wyko Tire Technology, a subsidiary of Mesnac Co. Ltd., has retired after a 37-year career in the rubber industry.
Smith said his retirement is the culmination of a four-year plan he hatched when he rejoined Wyko in 2009—coming out of retirement to return as CEO at the urging of the chairman. He agreed to keep to his timetable after Mesnac bought Wyko, and four years later he is keeping his word.
“It worked out exactly right, four years to the date,” Smith said. “I am very honored and proud that Mesnac would request that I stay on their board and do consulting work for them. I think that works out very, very well for me, and I'm happy to do that.”
Smith and P. David Jones became joint owners of Wyko in 2009. Smith said Wyko's former owner, Eriks Group N.V., was going to close it down unless he and Jones bought it.
He wasn't about to let the business he help start go under the hammer. Smith came to the U.S. in September 1981 and helped the firm find its footing in a new market, establishing its manufacturing operation in Greenback. The breakthrough came when the firm introduced its Radio Expand Collapse Tire Building Drum to the market.
“The first three years were very, very difficult, until we produced and patented the REC Tire Building Drum.” Smith said. “That really turned the tire industry around regarding accuracy and improvements in uniformity in radial tires.”
After selling the business to Mesnac, Smith and Jones faced a different challenge: integration. It is difficult enough joining two companies without factoring in different cultural philosophies, but that was the hurdle Mesnac and Wyko faced in the early years.
“You can integrate technology, machines and equipment, but integrating people really is a challenge,” Jones said. “It was the first time Mesnac has embarked upon this, and certainly it was the first time for Ian and I to work with Chinese owners and try to integrate our philosophies and management systems.”
Jones credited Smith's leadership as being instrumental in making the integration process as smooth as possible. He said both Wyko and Mesnac had a meticulous plan in place and even engaged outside consultants to help the process.
“I've seen companies try to do this since Mesnac acquired Wyko, and if you don't plan for this cultural integration upfront, you're going to get a failure and encounter all kinds of problems,” Jones said.
While Smith will continue to serve Mesnac as a consultant, he said he fully intends to enjoy his second round of retirement. Specifically, he is going to watch more English Premiere League Soccer. Before his time in the tire industry, Smith played two years professionally with England's Sunderland Football Club.
“I was a junior player who didn't make the grade,” Smith said. “That's why I've had to work for a living ever since. But it was a wonderful interlude in my life.”