Stanley Gault knew how to turn things around.
The Wooster native, whose father, Clyde, in 1920 helped create Rubbermaid in Wayne County, spent 31 years as a successful, fast-rising executive at General Electric. He lost a bid to become GE’s chief executive officer to Jack Welch.
Mr. Gault shortly after joined Rubbermaid in 1980 as chairman and CEO. By the time Mr. Gault retired from there at age 65 in 1991, Rubbermaid had grown from nearly $309 million in annual sales to $1.5 billion.
He didn’t stay retired for long.
Some 35 days after retiring from Rubbermaid, Mr. Gault became chairman and CEO of Goodyear after initially declining the positions. The Akron tire maker then was still struggling in the aftermath of successfully fighting off the 1986 James Goldsmith takeover attempt. And it was where Mr. Gault had been a board member since Valentine’s Day 1989. He is credited with helping Goodyear recover financially, in part with the highly successful – and high-profile launch – of the company’s deep center groove Aquatred tire.
Mr. Gault died Wednesday in Wooster. He was 90.
“The Goodyear of 1996 is now a textbook example of corporate rejuvenation,” Sam Gibara, who succeeded Gault as Goodyear CEO, said at a shareholders meeting that year. “And the bulk of the credit for its amazing turnaround must go, first and foremost, to the leadership of Stan Gault. We are a completely different company because of his leadership. We are market driven.”
Richard Kramer, Goodyear’s current chairman and CEO, said in a statement that today’s Goodyear began taking shape under Mr. Gault.
“He had unmatched business credentials when he was named CEO in 1991, but more importantly, Stan brought a personal commitment to Goodyear. He believed the company had a special place in American industry and led the way in Goodyear’s rebirth,” Kramer said. “Our shift from a manufacturing-driven company to one with a market-back consumer focus started with Stan. 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.”
Kramer noted that Mr. Gault introduced four Goodyear tires, including what became the best-selling Aquatred, on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York City. The Goodyear blimp’s colors were also changed to match the company’s blue and gold under Mr. Gault’s watch, he said.
“As a marketing expert, Stan was an effective caretaker and ‘grower’ of the Goodyear brand in very visible ways,” Kramer said.
Mr. Gault was also the first to refer to everyone at Goodyear as “associates,” he said.
“Even though we are saddened by his passing, we still are energized by his vision of what we can achieve,” Kramer said. “On behalf of all Goodyear associates, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to Stan’s two sons, his daughter and his entire family.”
Mr. Gault in a 1997 interview with the Akron Beacon Journal gave credit to his predecessors for Goodyear’s turnaround.
“I didn’t come in and create anything new,” he said. “I did what people should do: Build on the foundation you find.”
Mr. Gault also started selling Goodyear tires through mass merchandisers Sears, Wal-Mart and Discount Tire in addition to its dealers network. On weekends, he would dress down and go to competitor’s tire stores and talk with customers about why they bought non-Goodyear tires.
A Beacon Journal story from 1995 noted that Mr. Gault kept a cardboard sign, “Have you talked to a customer today?” on his desk in Goodyear’s executive suite on Mahogany Row in the company’s former headquarters.
As part of widespread cost-cutting measures, Mr. Gault eliminated some 12,000 jobs globally under his tenure, taking Goodyear from about 100,000 employees to 88,000.
He agreed to keep Goodyear’s iconic blimps and changed the colors from black and white to the company’s blue and gold so they stood out better on cloudy days. He also moved the Spirit of Akron blimp from Texas to the Suffield Township blimp base. The move saved $750,000 a year and cut the number of Goodyear blimp bases from four to three.
Mr. Gault was born in Wooster on Jan. 6, 1926. He graduated from The College of Wooster in 1948 following service in the Army Air Corps. He joined GE in the fall of that year – he also had been offered a job at Goodyear by a management recruiter but chose to start a career in marketing appliances at GE.
Mr. Gault served on other corporate boards, including Timken Co. He also was former chairman of the board of the College of Wooster.
In 1989, Industry Week magazine named Mr. Gault one of America’s best CEOs. In 1992, he was named outstanding CEO of the Year by Financial World magazine.
And in 1995, Mr. Gault became the first person to be twice honored as Rubber Industry Executive Of the Year, by Rubber and Plastics News. He first received the honor in 1990 while he was at Rubbermaid.
Mr. Gault’s wife, Flo, died in April 2013 in Wooster at the age of 86. They had been married 63 years and had two sons, a daughter, and grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements as of Thursday were incomplete but being handled by McIntire, Bradham, Sleek Funeral Home, 216 E. Larwill St., Wooster.
Calling hours will be 3 to 7 p.m. at the funeral home on July 8.
Services will be 10:30 a.m. July 9 at Wooster United Methodist Church.