Technology is a wonderful thing, and there is no doubt it has helped transform the rubber industry. But it is equally true that people remain irreplaceable as a key factor of success.
Examples of how technology has moved the rubber business forward include new manufacturing techniques and automation that have enabled tires and other rubber goods to be made more competitively and efficiently. This is one reason there has been a renaissance of sorts in the U.S. tire manufacturing sector.
Communication also is simpler, enabling staff in one location to work seamlessly with other company locations and customers around the globe. Technology in that manner certainly has made the world a smaller place in which to do business.
But in numerous other ways, people are still the glue that brings it all together. That is clearly illustrated in the words and actions of two longtime members of the tire and rubber product industry.
The first is Wayne Hoffman, who is retiring from Forbo Siegling after a 46-year career in the industry. He spent about a decade each in V-belts and industrial hose, followed by the last quarter-century in conveyor belting.
During that time, he has lived through the ups and downs of business cycles, but found that one axiom remains constant. Sales still are the result of people interacting with other people. While computers make work life more efficient, they never will replace the face-to-face relationships built over the course of careers.
It's why shows such as the ACS Rubber Division's Rubber Expo and the K Show in Germany continue to flourish, and tire makers still put on lavish annual meetings for dealers.
The second is none other than Maurice Taylor Jr., the chairman and CEO of Titan International. The 72-year-old Taylor is planning to drop the CEO duties next year, and his tire and wheel firm has been hit hard recently by the downturn in the agriculture market.
But when he heard that a farmer in South Dakota was thinking about buying some tires for a tractor over the summer, he called the farmer and said he was flying into the small Milbank, S.D., airport to meet him. After spending time talking equipment, the farmer spent $15,000 on two tires and rims.
It's clear that, after all these years, Taylor still knows what gets business done.