Small town Canadian boy grows into big time international success.
I f you’ve ever driven along the Trans-Canada Highway between Toronto and Kingston, you probably remember seeing a huge three-storey apple at the side of the road. This well known landmark/restaurant is located near the small town of Colborne, Ontario, the hometown of Gordon Knapp, Bridgestone Americas’ new CEO and President.
“I’m a farm boy,” Knapp says. “I grew up on an apple farm, and lived there for 19 years until I went to college.”
This small-town farm boy did his undergrad at Trent University in Peterborough, got an MBA from Western, and then went on to conquer the corporate world. He worked for Warner-Lambert in Toronto, the U.S., Germany, and eventually ended up running the Sub-Saharan Africa region for the pharmaceutical giant.
In 2013, Knapp joined Bridgestone where he ran the consumer integrated business, and was soon promoted to COO, and then CEO (as of Sept, 2016). Today, he’s responsible for Canada, USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and all of the Latin American countries.
At their 2016 Consumer Tire Business Meeting in Los Angeles, Bridgestone made it clear that the company isn’t interested in simply selling tires. They want to build partnerships.
Knapp admits that it hasn’t always been easy. “I think there has always been a special relationship between Bridgestone and its independent dealer network,” he says. “I think we’ve gone through ups and downs when we didn’t always listen to them as well as we should have. Maybe a little tone deaf at times. And it’s something that we’ve been working hard to improve over the past three or four years.”
The bottom line, according to Bridgestone, is that the success of the independent dealer network is key. “Their success is our success,” Knapp says. “We’re not going to be successful if they’re not successful. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. I think we can continue to work at it.”
Tools vs. tires
Beyond selling tires, Bridgestone is supplying retailers with the tools they need in order to succeed in the market. “We know we need to do more than simply provide them with good tires,” Knapp explains. “We need to provide a much more holistic solution and we need to provide solutions that help them succeed in business.”
Some of the tools Bridgestone is currently providing help retailers enjoy a better presence on the Internet, better understand their merchandising mix, and provide a better presentation to the consumer.
“We want to enable the Canadian dealers, just the same as the US dealers, to have a position in e-commerce,” Knapp adds. “It’s a growing trend and we want to enable them to be successful.”
As the new CEO, Knapp has a clear vision of the future. “You’re going to see us migrate toward more of a solutions-oriented business,” he says. “It’s going to be anchored with great products. That’s the foundation. We sincerely believe that we know the consumer best, and that’s going to provide a huge advantage to us going forward. To deliver on that, we’re committed to R&D. We value the relationship and we feel that the only way we’re going to be successful is if you’re successful.”