Goodyear’s Billy Taylor: ‘Engaged, empowered people are your greatest asset’

goodyear billy taylor

Billy Taylor wrapped up a three-year stint running Goodyear’s manufacturing plant in Lawton, Oklahoma, with more than a few reasons to be proud.

Under his leadership, safety improved, processes streamlined, and projects racked up millions of dollars in savings. The turnaround job was enough to win the coveted Shingo Prize Silver Medallion for Operational Excellence, what’s been dubbed the “Nobel Prize for operations.”

It was, Taylor thought, his ticket to world headquarters.

The powers that be had other things in mind, dispatching him from one challenge to his next: A plant in Fayetteville, N.C., where demand for tires was outstripping the production pace by nearly 20 percent. In Taylor’s first two weeks walking the floor as plant director, he made it his mission to “seek to understand before I sought to change.”

The diagnosis: “I had great people but they didn’t understand what winning was,” Taylor said.

‘Most leaders struggle with letting go’

The story of the successful Fayetteville turnaround was just the next step in a journey that eventually led Taylor to where he is today, overseeing all North America manufacturing for the iconic, $15 billion-a-year brand and Center for Operational Excellence member. Taylor shared insights from his decades driving transformational change during his keynote address at COE’s 25th anniversary celebration in September, where nearly 200 industry leaders gathered to ring in the center’s quarter-century milestone.

Taylor’s insights on leadership are rooted in a passion for engaging people, a core element of transformational change that’s become the centerpiece of his frequent speaking engagements.

“Great leaders respect their people,” he said. “If you make people visible, they will make you valuable.”

Reflecting on the Oklahoma and North Carolina plant turnarounds, Taylor said the crucial next step after defining winning was in giving his front-line employees a sense of ownership in executing on the plant’s broader strategy. Though essential, it’s not always easy for managers, he said.

“Most leaders struggle with letting go,” Taylor said. “People are not your greatest asset. Engaged, empowered people who own your strategy are your greatest asset.”

By putting that into action, Taylor said, he ultimately oversaw a transformation in Fayetteville that resulted in a 14 percent bump in tire production with a 4 percent drop in hours worked – “no investment, no additional equipment, just ownership.”

Sustaining this culture of continuous improvement, Taylor said, means building a regular cadence around recognizing people as they execute on strategy and “celebrating the process” that’s driving gains. And it’s something he says he still does as one of the highest-ranking leaders in the company.

“Now that I run North America, it’s still simple. I still show up to celebrate the process, and I never miss the opportunity to share best practices.”

Billy Taylor was a featured keynote at COE’s fall seminar along with LeanCor Supply Chain Group CEO Robert Martichenko, who stressed the importance of connecting different parts of the business to create a lean culture.

A 15-minute recap and full-length recording for each session are available in the Digital Content Archive on COE’s members-only website (authenticated account required for access).

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