People - July 2007

CEO likes treadling on the big wheels
By Chris Roush

Joe Rayna didn’t have much choice about moving Bridgestone Aircraft Tire (USA) Inc. from Miami. The federal Department of Transportation needed the property it was on near Miami International Airport, and “there is precious little land available for industrial use in South Florida,” the CEO of the maker of airliner tires explains.

But he did have a say in where the company moved. In May 2006, he picked Mayodan in Rockingham County. It offered cheap land, experienced factory workers and more than $800,000 in state and local incentives. Many making the move didn’t mind. “When we said North Carolina, it got a tremendous response. People said they could live there.”

After a $13.5 million renova-tion, production began this March in a former Unifi textile factory, where about 95 people work. Tires for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380 — two new customers — are inflated with helium, to prevent leaks, at 235 pounds per square inch. Each must be able to bear loads as heavy as 18 Chev-rolet Suburbans. Made of steel and rubber, they can be as big as 5 feet tall and weigh 325 pounds. On average, each lasts about 300 landings. “It’s very high-speed, very high-load and put under enormous pressure.”

For his part, Rayna, 54, can feel the heat from sibling rivals. Tokyo-based Bridgestone has separate aircraft-tire companies in Belgium, China and Japan to meet an expanding global market. “That will force us to expand along with them. If it’s round and black, Bridgestone will make it.” Bridgestone, which owns the Firestone brand, had sales of more than $25 billion last year but won’t reveal its revenue from aircraft tires.

Rayna’s background is no secret. Born and raised in Oxnard, Calif., he got a bachelor’s in marketing in 1976 from San Diego State University. After jobs at a scuba shop, ski resort and burglar-alarm company, he went to work for Bridgestone as a salesman in 1979. Rising through the ranks, he moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1990 as a marketing manager for Bridgestone Americas Holdings, which oversees operations in North and South America. In 2001, he went to Miami to run the aircraft-tire operation.

An automobile aficionado, Rayna has Bridgestones on his 2006 Porsche and Firestones on his 1957 Ford Thunderbird. What else would he choose?