WOOSTER, Ohio—Stanley C. Gault, former head of both Goodyear and Rubbermaid Inc. and two-time Rubber & Plastics News Executive of the Year, died June 29 at the age of 90.
After graduating from his hometown College of Wooster in 1948, he started a 31-year career at General Electric. He left the company to return to Wooster as CEO of Rubbermaid from 1980-91.
His tenure at Rubbermaid had a storybook-like quality: Gault came back to his hometown, to a company that had been co-founded as Wooster Rubber Co. by his father, to head the firm. Gault ended up at Rubbermaid in part because he clashed at his former employer with another one of industry's best-known CEOs: Jack Welch.
According to the book “At any cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit” by Thomas F. O'Boyle, in the 1970s, Gault and Welch both were seen as potential successors to then-GE CEO Reg Jones. The two had been rivals in the 1960s—O'Boyle wrote how Welch tried to get GE Appliances to use then-new Noryl resin in housing for room air conditioners, but Gault resisted changing from steel.
A decade later, Gault and Welch were high on the list of successors to Jones. When Welch was picked for the GE job, Gault looked elsewhere for his next career move.
Rubbermaid was a household name when Gault arrived, but he took the company to new heights. He cut costs, pushed new product development and shook up management with a corporate reorganization.
When he joined Rubbermaid, the company had sales of $309 million. A decade later, annual sales stood at $1.5 billion. Under Gault, Rubbermaid enjoyed an uninterrupted string of consecutive quarters with sales and profit exceeding those of the comparable year-earlier quarters. In 1989, he was named RPN's Executive of the Year for the first time for his work at Rubbermaid.
When he retired as the company's chairman and CEO in 1991, he stayed unemployed for just six weeks when fellow board members at Goodyear convinced him to take over the reins at the struggling Akron-based maker of tires and rubber products. Goodyear still was struggling financially five years after fending off a takeover attempt from Sir James Goldsmith, and Gault was the first outsider named to lead the company since the 1920s.
“I accepted the Goodyear invitation after declining it several times,” Gault said in a 1998 interview. “My decision to join Goodyear was 98-percent-plus emotional.”
One thing Gault provided was a fresh perspective for Goodyear, according to industry observers at the time. He wondered why the iconic Goodyear blimps were a drab gray, and he had them re-made into bright blue and yellow flying billboards for the company. He looked at a developmental water-channel tire, and led to the company taking the industry by storm with the Aquatred. And he took the somewhat controversial path of leading Goodyear into selling its brand name tires in mass market channels such as Sears automotive stores.
In a statement, Goodyear said that Gault helped to shift the company from a manufacturing-driven one to one with a market-back consumer focus.
“The commitment to helping our customers grow their businesses started with Stan. Emphasizing the importance of sales and marketing in our company started with Stan,” the statement said. “Above all, Stan Gault realized the strength of the Goodyear brand began with its dedicated people. He was the first to make everyone who worked at Goodyear feel part of the company by referring to us as ‘associates.' ”
Gault also helped overhaul the company through instituting a Total Quality Culture. “We accept the principle that regardless of how well we think, we're doing things today, we will need to find ways to do those same things better in the future,” Gault said in an interview at the time he announced his retirement from Goodyear in late 1995.
The results clearly showed up on Goodyear's bottom line. During his tenure, Goodyear's net income rose from $96.6 million in 1991 to $611 million in 1995; sales rose from $10.9 billion to $13.2 billion; and debt was slashed by more than half.
It was for this performance that Gault received RPN's honor for a second time in 1995, as he stepped down from his CEO post.
But he didn't want all the praise given to himself. “I don't like to claim that I've left any particular legacy,” he said in 1998. “I would much rather refer to those years as a period where Goodyear associates throughout the world recorded an amazing turnaround with results that outperformed all of our competitors.”
Gault said he saw himself as a leader who strove to set a course to encourage, motivate and inspire confidence in employees. “I believe in giving people authority, responsibility and accountability,” he said. “I believe in setting tough standards. I believe in hard work. I believe in good reward for high performance. I'm demanding, but I'm equally demanding on myself.”
In his hometown, Gault is well known for civic activities. He served on the board of trustees at his alma mater, the College of Wooster, from 1972 to 2000.
Gault was preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Flo, and is survived by their three children and six grandchildren. Services are pending.
Don Loepp, Plastics News, contributed to this report.