Former Michelin Tire Exec Herve Coyco on Tough Choices and EthicsPublished: September 15, 2010 in Knowledge@Emory
Best known as home of the Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was also the site of one of the most controversial Formula One motor races in recent years. It was during an afternoon practice session prior to the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix that Ralf Schumacher, driving for Toyota, crashed badly in the 13th turn, the result of what appeared to be a left-rear tire failure.
The 13th turn, explains Hervé Coyco, former president of Michelin Tire and an affiliate professor at HEC Paris School of Management, is a high-speed, banked turn better suited for NASCAR stock cars than Formula One cars because the banking causes greater than usual tire loading. (Toyota was one of seven teams competing in the race and outfitted with Michelin tires.) While Michelin engineers deemed the tires structurally safe, they couldn’t explain why the tires failed in this particular turn. The company flew in alternate tires with slightly different specifications, only to find, when tested, that they also suffered the same tire loading issue.
This set up a dilemma for Coyco and Michelin—as well as for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), Formula One’s governing body. Michelin could not ensure the safety of its tires given the unique characteristics of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it attempted to work with the FIA to come up with a solution. Coyco, during a recent talk as part of Emory University's Goizueta Business School’s Dean’s Leadership Speaker Series, detailed his decision-making process.
Michelin proposed several options to slow down the track at turn 13, including the addition of a chicane, an artificial feature that would create extra turns in the track and reduce the speed of the cars going into the turn. The FIA rejected the offers. Left without a compromise, Michelin could cross its fingers and hope the tires held or advise teams using Michelin tires not to race. Both scenarios presented problematic consequences.
At this point in his career, Coyco had been with Groupe Michelin for nearly three decades, holding executive positions (including head of quality control) in Europe, North America, and Asia. In the following video, Coyco details the events of the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix as well as his belief that leadership is a combination of trust, cooperation, limit-setting and the ability to make yourself vulnerable.
Ultimately, Coyco told the seven teams using Michelin tires not to race. “It was a disappointing conclusion,” he says. “People were really upset.” A potential field of 20 cars was reduced to six cars (outfitted in Bridgestone tires), and the race was largely considered a farce.
Formula One was lambasted. Michelin received its share of criticism as well. “Our technical credibility took a hit, but [our company] credibility went up,” recalls Coyco, adding that the race teams told him, “When you tell us not to race, we trust you.”
In his presentation, Coyco chronicles his communications with the FIA, his attempts to add a chicane, and why the safety of the drivers came first. “I could have been fired,” he says of his decision at the time. While some leaders would have opted for self-protection, observes Coyco, “I didn’t care what happened to me.”
To view Coyco's entire lecture, click here.