Hawk, who Toyo hired away from Yokohama to set up the Bartow County plant, said the award had more to do with the growth seen at the plant through the recession and the plant’s management style rather than his personal actions.
“It’s pretty cool. I was like, wow. They have a nominating process, so somehow they kind of look around and decide. It has more to do with the results here, not just me,” Hawk said.
For Hawk, getting into the tire business was nearly a foregone conclusion.
“I grew up in it. I’m from Akron, Ohio. Akron, Ohio, the so-called rubber capital of the world, so all the major tire companies were headquartered there at one time. So it was rather your destiny to be in that industry,” he said. “In fact, my father was a tire builder. He worked for Firestone. … So that was kind of the tradition back then. You had entire families that worked for these rubber companies. Basically I followed in my family’s footsteps.
“I went to school to be an engineer. … I originally worked for a company called General Tire. I was a mechanical project engineer, did capital equipment, installed capital equipment, built some tire plants, things like that. And then I had two career changes. I was recruited by a company called Yokohama to run a factory for them in Salem, Va., and then I was recruited by Toyo to come here to build and start this up.”
Don Waterhouse, human resources manager at the plant, said Hawk came to Toyo in 2004 as a vice president of operations. In 2008 he was appointed president of Toyo Tire North America Manufacturing, and in 2012 he was made a chairman of Toyo Tire Holdings of America.
“Then at the same time he was appointed to the board of directors for Toyo Tire Rubber Co., which he was the first non-Japanese person ever to be assigned to the board of directors, and he still holds that position today. So he’s — not only has the plant grown, Jim has also grown in his responsibility,” Waterhouse said.
Though Hawk oversees all North American operations, he does still get involved in the day-to-day running of the plant by walking the floor and getting involved in troubleshooting processes if there is a breakdown at the plant. Describing himself as “kind of a nerd,” he said he cannot get away from engineering.
“So, yeah, in some respects I’m kind of dangerous because we have any kind of maintenance issues or breakdown issues, or anything like that, I can’t stay out of it. My idea is to help, make sure that the thinking and the thought process is good, and if they do indeed need any help troubleshooting,” he said. “I’m not [an] electronics wizard by any means. I’m more basic mechanical engineering. But, yeah, I still do [get] involved with our capital expansions directly, intimately involved.”
However, Hawk said when he does get involved in a project he seeks to guide it rather than micro-manage.
“Hands-on in that I’m not meddling. But hands-on in the respect that making sure the intensity’s there; making sure that the focus on the schedules and the spending are there, making sure that the thinking on the process and equipment is well thought out,” he said.
The fourth expansion is slated to add 700,000 square feet to the plant, create approximately 650 jobs over a period of four years and add 323,000 square feet to the plant’s warehouse. Hawk said the coming equipment will fill up only half of the plant expansion, and that is expected to take the company through 2016. After that, the rest may be filled up by 2018 or 2020 at the latest. By 2020, though, Hawk said he probably would not be at the plant as his retirement is approaching.
“Don and I are the same age, pretty much, and we’re kind of — the only reason we’re still working is the thrill of the game,” he said.
The thrill, he clarified, comes from creating jobs.
“The nicest thing about this is we’re still growing and we’re still hiring and creating jobs and growing managers. We do a lot of promotion from within. I know Don feels the same way. In our careers the biggest thrill we have is being able to grow employment and see people have a future and have a career — help them. Help people with their careers,” Hawk said.
Helping employees was at the forefront of Hawk’s mind when the recession hit in 2008. The plant was in the middle of its third expansion, and he made the decision not to stop or lay off any employees. The reason was twofold.
“One is you go into a layoff situation, that just shows you’re focused on short-term results. The other thing is that it causes so much turmoil in your organization, because to do it right you have to do it by seniority and invariably you’re going to have to retrain and move people around significantly,” Hawk said. “So there’s a cost to doing that, certainly. So are you better off holding on to what you have and weathering the storm, so to speak, or just turn the whole organization upside down and then show that you’re focused on short-term results? People see that. Our attitude has always been: we hire you. We want you to be able to retire from this job.”
Hawk credited his high position in Toyo’s North American operation, and the willingness of his superiors to take the long view in building the business, as the reason he was able to avoid layoffs.
“So, in my case, no one is there telling me what to do. That was purely my decision and nobody criticized me for it. Had it gone the other way, sure, I wouldn’t be here anymore. But it was clearly, ethically and for the future of our business, the right thing to do,” he said.