Ono To Retire As Firestone Chief

Tuesday, October 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Masatoshi Ono, the chief executive and chairman of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., is expected to announce his retirement Tuesday, with company officials naming John Lampe as his successor.

Ono's retirement, effective immediately, will be announced at a 1 p.m. CDT news conference in Nashville and Lampe, an executive vice president, will be named his successor, a company source who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

Ono, 63, testified during a daylong deposition Monday that he offered to retire as head of U.S. operations for Tokyo-based parent company, Bridgestone Corp., in September, about a month after the company recalled 6.5 million tires.

Firestone spokeswoman Anitra Budd would not confirm or deny Ono's retirement.

``We have made no formal announcement of any sort of management change,'' she said late Monday.

Bridgestone/Firestone reportedly is also planning to name one of three Japanese officers as its No. 2 executive, giving that person the titles of president and chief operating officer.

The company is considering Isao Togashi, a Bridgestone senior vice president for tire production and production technology; Shigeo Watanabe, a Bridgestone senior vice president for research and development; and Hiroshi Kanai, a Bridgestone senior vice president for administration who serves as chief financial officer, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Reports of Ono's potential departure have circulated since the recall of Firestone's ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires, which have been linked to 101 deaths in the United States and more than 50 fatalities overseas.

Ono, top executive of the U.S. operations for seven years, was giving a deposition Monday in Nashville as part of consumer lawsuits filed against Firestone and Ford Motor Co.

Gordon Ball of Knoxville and Mary Pat Viles of Fort Myers, Fla., represent consumers seeking class action status for lawsuits claiming Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford, which used the tires as standard equipment on some vehicles, breached their warranties and provided products that were not fit for their intended use.

None of those lawsuits involved injury accidents, however the information gained from the deposition will be shared with attorneys representing victims and families of people killed or hurt in accidents linked to Firestone tires.

Ball and Viles are trying to convince the courts to expand the tire maker's recall to include 24 other models of Bridgestone/Firestone tires and be overseen by a judge, rather than the tire maker.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a consumer advisory on 1.4 million more Firestone tires considered potentially unsafe, and opened an investigation into the Steeltex brand.

A copy of Ono's deposition was provided to The Associated Press by Bridgestone/Firestone. Among his statements, Ono said the public apologies made by him and other Bridgestone/Firestone executives during September's congressional hearings on the recall should not be construed as an admission of corporate liability.

``At present, we have not concluded whether or not there was a defect,'' Ono said. ``However, we have to acknowledge there may have been safety related problems — there were safety related problems.''

Ball suggested Ono was trying to back off of earlier comments Bridgestone/Firestone executives made to Congress.

But Daniel J. Adomitis, an attorney for the embattled tire company, said nothing Ono discussed at a Nashville hotel Monday contradicted his testimony before congressional committees looking into the recall.

``There was really nothing new,'' Adomitis said.

Last month, Lampe, chairman and executive vice president, told Congress that tire failure had been responsible in a ``very, very small percentage of these deaths.''

When asked about Lampe's testimony, Ono said: ``I don't know on what basis Mr. Lampe stated there were defects. Right now, what I can say is we have not discovered defects.''

Lampe will be questioned by consumer attorneys Thursday in Nashville. Gary Crigger, another company vice president, will testify Wednesday.

Regarding his departure from the company, Ono testified that he told Bridgestone Corp. president Yoichiro Kaizaki in September that he would like to retire from the Nashville-based U.S. division ``because I will be turning 64 next year and I didn't feel I was in particularly good health either.''

Ono said he has stomach problems and high blood sugar, and his retirement request was not related to the recall.

Kaizaki told Ono not to retire immediately, Ono said.


On the Net:

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com

Bridgestone/Firestone: http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com

NHSTA: http://www.nhtsa.gov