NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Disruption is generally considered a bad thing. But to Richard J. Kramer, chairman, CEO and president of Goodyear, disruption can be a blessing.
“Disruption is something that sneaks up on us and has an unexpected impact,” Kramer said during his Jan. 29 keynote address at the 2016 Goodyear Dealer Conference in National Harbor. “It's something that changes an industry forever.
“It is something that starts very small, which is why we ignore it until it grows into a real competitive threat. Disruption is already here, already in front of us.”
The secret, Kramer said, is to make disruption work for you—to allow it to change your thinking and embrace the opportunities it brings. He compared the current business situation with standing in the middle of a bridge. The old side is familiar, he said; the new side is foggy and uncertain. But crossing over to the new side is imperative.
“We tend to go back to the toolbox we have to fix the problems in front of us,” he said. “As leaders, it is our jobs to look ahead. We need to spend time thinking about these changes and how we will respond to them.
“We need to move, or we're going to get passed.”
Technological changes of the past 10 years have been unprecedented in human history, according to Kramer. A single smart phone, for example, has more computing power than a room-sized mainframe computer in the 1980s, he said.
In turn, that has led to new businesses, such as the online vehicle service Uber, which couldn't have been imagined 10 years ago, he said.
“Uber upended the taxi business in a way they couldn't imagine and didn't see coming,” he said. “Uber demonstrates that the traditional ways of doing things will continue to be challenged.”
That doesn't mean tire dealers shouldn't keep achieving excellence in their core business, Kramer said.
“Consumers still have to come see you in your stores to install their tires,” he said. “Nobody is going to take your place as experts.”
But at the same time, Kramer said, dealers have to be aware of the changes around them.
“Educate yourself on the disruptions going on and how they affect your business,” he said. “You have to be alert to the opportunities driven by these new technologies.”
“Go out and disrupt yourselves a little bit,” Kramer told assembled Goodyear dealers. Just going paperless for a week, or reading newspapers online, or paying bills online would give them some ideas about the possibilities of the new technology, he said.
Some dealers were nervous last year when Goodyear embraced e-commerce, he said. But they began to embrace it when they saw how the e-commerce system directed buyers to their nearest Goodyear dealers.
“The value in tires is still the personal service you provide,” he said. “Personal contact is only going to become more important as the market changes. My best days are when I get calls from customers praising the good treatment they've received from Goodyear.”
For Goodyear to advance, both its executives and its dealers have to be willing to disrupt themselves, according to Kramer.
“When we cross to the other side, we're going to find opportunities we couldn't even imagine,” he said.