Richard Smallwood

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Richard Smallwood, and I am the CEO & President of Sumitomo Rubber North America. I am also an Executive Officer of Sumitomo Rubber Industries in Kobe, Japan, on the Board of Directors of Sumitomo Rubber USA, and on the Board of Directors of the US Tire Manufacturers Association.

What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?

Always do the right thing.

What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.

Crashing a motorcycle on the race track at 150 mph. I was rushing out to the track and not focusing on the task at hand. I just wanted to get out on the track and ride and had even forgotten to fasten my helmet properly before going out. Fortunately, I realized my helmet was unfastened and went back onto the grid and fastened my helmet less than a minute before the crash.
1. I wasn’t focused on the task at hand.
2. I did not prepare properly.
3. I put my family through a lot of worry and stress.
4. I now remember to keep my ego in check and set the right priorities.

Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?

The tire industry is highly fragmented for such a mature industry and there will be a need to consolidate the industry and reduce the number of competitors. This will be hastened by the adoption of Autonomous vehicles. Total tire consumption will continue to increase marginally, but the importance of brand will be greatly diminished as people lose connection to their cars. The belief is that the majority of cars will not be owned by individuals but by fleets, and people will simply pay per use similar to a Uber or Lyft concept. For those who do still own a car they will lose the connection to the car since the car will drive itself and the driver will no longer be able to go out for spirited drives. The car will be programmed to follow the rules.

The opportunities will come from highly efficient fully automated production that is low in cost and highly uniform.

What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

That we need to constantly give into the political correctness thought of the day without logically challenging it. As a CEO, you are always a target for criticism especially on social media, so you need to be constantly aware of what you say or do. But that does not mean that we have to always accept what is said.

If you disagree with something, then do it logically, factually, and respectfully. But do not give in to coercion or threats out of fear of retribution, and do not respond like a bully. I see too many CEO’s and companies giving into concepts/movements they do not agree with out of fear of retribution by a vocal and militant minority. They are afraid that if they take a stand it will hurt Sales. But done thoughtfully, that usually does not happen.

In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?

Worrying about the results. I have spent over 30 years worrying every month and every quarter about delivering results. That is not a healthy or productive way to live. Make your best plans, execute the best way possible, and correct if need be. But no more worrying.

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

The Bible. If you want to be successful for the long run, you have to concentrate on your core principles first. A great education and years of experience will mean nothing if your values are misplaced. Those around you need to be able to trust that you will always do the right thing.

Besides the obvious lessons in morality, the bible has a great deal of insight in how to treat people and how to set priorities. I read a great deal, and I haven’t found a better foundational book than that.

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

Understand who you are and what is important to you, and don’t lose sight of those things. It is incredibly easy to start moving quickly through life and career, only to wake up one day and wonder what happened to you. How did you become this different person?

Also, always know what your options are. People quite often fail to recognize all of the options available to them and then get disheartened when something does not go as they planned. Generally speaking, my life didn’t go as planned and I am very happy for that. Every time I thought something was going bad it ended up being in my favor.

Lastly, find out how you can contribute more to the organization and deliver great results. Just because you have a degree, or that you have worked somewhere for a long time does not mean you deserve a promotion. Delivering consistently great results is what gets the promotion.

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If you treat people well, they will generally treat you well also. Besides, it is a great example for leaders to set.