Bob Levy for IndustryWeek
Industryweek 10964 Billytaylor

Goodyear's Billy Taylor on Earning the Right to Play the Leadership Game

May 9, 2016
Operational excellence comes from creating a culture in which employees are empowered and engaged.

In eighth grade, Billy Taylor was the star of his school football team. Fans chanted his moniker, “BT Express” as he made game-changing plays on the gridiron.

Taylor led his team to the championship matchup, which seemed like a sure thing given the team’s not-so-secret weapon. But, before the season-crowning game, Taylor got an “F” on his report card.

“Mom said, “If you make less than a B, NFL in this house means “not for long will you be playing football,’” Taylor said. “She was uncompromising.”

She pulled him from the game, and the team suffered a gut-wrenching 54-0 defeat.

The lesson his mother taught him at that young age has stayed with Taylor even now as he serves as director of Commercial, Off Highway and Support Manufacturing for North America for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.  

Taylor, who oversees four manufacturing plants for Goodyear, uses his mother’s wisdom to lead employees to operational excellence. During his keynote address at the 2016 IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo, Taylor explained how operational excellence comes from creating a culture in which employees are empowered and engaged.

“Most companies invest in equipment. What’s most critical is investment in the culture, which is the people,” Taylor said. “Most companies fail because they don’t earn the right to change.”

The right to change involves two rights: the technical right and the social (or cultural) right, he said. While most people focus on the technical right (all of those business-driven concepts), there also should be a focus on the cultural right (the people).

“It starts with leaders modeling the way. You have to embrace the cultural right and the technical right,” Taylor said.

Embracing the cultural right means making employees feel valued and earning their trust. That type of people-driven operational excellence means flipping the organizational chart upside down and putting the company directly in the hands of the workers.

“They no longer work for me. I work for them,” Taylor said. “I became more of a servant leader now through operational excellence.”

Using that model, Taylor took control of the underperforming Goodyear plant in Fayetteville, NC, and turned it around. And now he heads up four manufacturing facilities for the company.

“In North America, plants were closing, and I thought Fayetteville was next,” Taylor admitted, sharing how at first he was reluctant to make the move to NC from his plant in Lawton, Okla.

But he made the move to the plant that was making 31,000 tires in a market that demanded 37,000, and turned to the people to fix it.

“The people know where the hidden factory is,” Taylor said.

He found ways to make employees feel important and visible, and used their knowledge and insight to turn the plant around, eventually making more tires in a shorter amount of time.

“It’s not what you say. It’s what you do that makes the biggest difference,” Taylor said.

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