AKRON—Charles J. Pilliod Jr., former Goodyear chairman and CEO, died April 18 at the age of 97.
Pilliod, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 1986-89, began his more than four-decade career at Goodyear in 1941 as a production trainee. After serving in the Air Force as a pilot in World War II, he rejoined the company in 1945 as a sales staffman in its foreign operations.
After that, he served in Panama and Costa Rica as managing director of Goodyear-Panama; as field representative for Peru, Chile and Bolivia; as sales manager for Goodyear-Colombia; as managing director of Goodyear-Brazil; and in England, Scotland and Ireland as managing director of Goodyear-Great Britain.
Pilliod returned to Akron in 1966 as director of operations for Goodyear International and became a vice president of the subsidiary a year later. In January 1971 he was elected president of Goodyear International, and in September of that year became an executive vice president and a director of the parent company.
He was named president of Goodyear in July 1972, CEO in January 1974 and chairman—just the fourth in company's history—in April 1974. He retired as chairman and CEO of Goodyear in 1983 and resigned as a company director in 1986, before President Reagan nominated him to be the nation's ambassador to Mexico.
Pilliod said in a 1998 interview that he never expected to be named Goodyear's chairman because nearly his entire Goodyear career was spent on international assignments.
“I expected to end my career in international,” he said. “Until that time, it was unheard of to bring an international person into (this position).”
He is remembered for starting to change Goodyear's domestic tire operations over to radials from bias-ply. Other Goodyear officials originally weren't convinced that radials would stick around, but Pilliod knew better.
“It was no great forethought on my part,” he said. “It was something that came out of the international field. It was a proven technology.”
He also discounted the argument that radials—already being pushed by Michelin and accounting for about 50 percent of Goodyear's European capacity—were too expensive. “My theory on that is, if you look at the most popular technology around the world, it's not the cheapest,” Pilliod said. “The most popular is the most advanced.”
Pilliod also is credited by some with making Goodyear a truly global company rather than a domestic firm that happened to have foreign subsidiaries. “We wanted to get away from the idea that a passport designated intelligence,” he said. “Who should run the company are the best people available.”
One of the most difficult decisions Pilliod said he made while he was chairman of Goodyear was shutting down manufacturing plants in Akron, because he was born in Cuyahoga Falls, a suburb of Akron.
At the time Goodyear was building a new facility in Lawton, Okla., to make radial tires using the most advanced equipment at the time. Pilliod said the plan was to take what was learned at Lawton and use it elsewhere, and that the Akron local was given the chance for the second phase. But when the union made it clear they wouldn't accept work rule changes, the investment for radial tires went to the Gadsden, Ala., tire factory.
Goodyear closed its Akron tire facilities in 1975 and 1978, but Pilliod said the firm still felt a strong obligation to the community, so the company located its technical center and test track in its home city.
Pilliod served as a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was a founding member of The Business Roundtable.
He also received a number of honors for his international work. In March 1972, Queen Elizabeth conferred on Pilliod the award of Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He also held two decorations from the Grand Ducy of Luxembourg; received the honor of the Officer in the Order of Leopold II in Belgium; and received two honors from Brazil.