Meet Morry Taylor: The Bold, Brash CEO of Titan
Interviews with most executives – even at ag companies – follow a similar pattern. A thorough journalist asks inquisitive questions about the company and the executive, hoping to uncover answers that highlight the subject’s vision and the company’s focus and how it ultimately affects farmers.
Executives provide well-thought out, most likely practiced, answers that positively reflect upon the company. Responses are rarely personal unless they show the subject’s respectable character and dedication to improving the life of American farmers.
That is not what it’s like to interview Maurice Taylor.
Taylor, who goes by Morry, has been at the helm of Titan International since 1990, first as president and CEO and now as CEO and chairman of the board. Despite his long tenure as an executive, Taylor has been unaffected by the training that polishes most CEOs.
He is not afraid to state his opinion, even if it’s political or controversial. While some of his responses to this interview weren’t necessarily elegant, they also weren’t calculated. They were real, in-the-moment thoughts.
For example, these were a few of the random comments Taylor made during the interview with Successful Farming: the French drink too much bad wine, California should be sold to Mexico, and Russian women in factories don’t need to wear high heels.
This tell-it-like-it-is commentary continues on Taylor’s blog: The Grizz. Taylor was given the nickname by Wall Street analysts for his tough negotiating style back when Titan went through its first public offering on the stock market in 1992 (shown above). On grizztalk.com and on his podcasts, visitors are warned about the content. “CAUTION: Conservative, pro-America, proud, and loud, Morry’s plain talk is not safe for bureaucrats.”
Taylor has taken a break from his weekly podcasts, but he’s not losing any steam in his work for Titan. During his interview with Successful Farming magazine, it became apparent that Taylor remains focused on two main areas of the business: growing the company strategically and promoting low sidewall (LSW) tires.
Expansion Through Acquisitions
When the company was started back in 1890, Titan – then the Electric Wheel Company – produced wheels for wagons and farm implements. In 1957, the company was acquired by Firestone Tire. In 1983, 39-year-old Taylor entered the picture and started on the path to turn the Electric Wheel Company into a global, near-$2-billion off-highway tire, wheel, undercarriage, and tracks business.
That year, Taylor and his business partner Joseph Tannenbaum bought several properties from Firestone and started Can-Am Industries. During the next seven years, Can-Am bought wheel-making assets from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and French & Hecht’s as well as formed a partnership with an England company.
“We buy everybody’s junk,” says Taylor. “They want out because they are losing money, so we buy it.”
In 1990, MascoTech, a leading auto parts manufacturer from Michigan, split ownership with Tannenbaum and Taylor through a leveraged buyout, and Titan Wheel International was born. Two years later, Taylor and MascoTech bought out Tannenbaum’s interest, giving Taylor 53% ownership.
Throughout the 1990s, Taylor didn’t slow down. Titan acquired assets and facilities from more than 10 companies around the world.
In 2005, Titan struck a major deal with Goodyear Tire & Rubber company, which allowed Titan to begin manufacturing and selling the Goodyear Farm Tire brand across North America. That agreement expanded further in 2012 and again in 2015 to include parts of Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Making Money From ‘Junk’
In 2013, Titan purchased a Russian tire plant that produces Voltyre tires (shown at right). “There’s been nobody outside of a communist to buy a Russian-built factory. At one time, there were 8,000 people there. It’s huge,” he says.
When Titan purchased the factory, there were only 2,500 people still employed. “After a year, we realized we needed to get it down to 1,000,” he says.
How do you decide who gets the boot? “You have to spend a little time figuring out where all the problems are and once you get to that point, you can make your changes,” says Taylor.
For this case, Taylor had three interpreters and brought all of the workers in groups of 200 through an auditorium, which Taylor jokes may have been used for ballets. He asked the head of each department what their team was responsible for.
“One lady was the head of economic forecasting for the company,” he says, about the group who was responsible for reading trade publications from Russia and around the world. “They would all read them and get together and try to figure out what’s going on, and then they’d write reports. It’s like their government.”
Taylor has always had an issue with economics departments in companies, as he’s frequently told the CEOs of his major customers. “’Why are you paying all of that money? Just get rid of those people,’” he says. “That’s what I did in Russia. That whole department was gone.”
In other instances, turning a factory around had more to do with integration than downsizing.
In 1993, Titan acquired a plant in Tennessee that made wheels and tires for ATVs and lawn and garden equipment, which is what got Titan involved in the tire business.
The factory was originally losing money, says Taylor, so Titan had planned on selling it. “When you went through the factory, you realize this is a crazy business. You have a factory and an office building set away from it. When you looked at what was wrong, nobody knew what the hell was going on in the factory. So I shut the office down, moved everybody into the factory, and the dog-gone thing made money,” explains Taylor.
Time for Change
After four years in the tire business, Taylor had a realization. “Tires and wheels in the industry that we serve hadn’t changed in 30 or 40 years,” he says. “Even today, you could buy a brand-new John Deere 6000 or 7000 series tractor, and you would get the same tires that your grandfather bought on a tractor.”
Determined to bring new options to the marketplace, Taylor put together a team of engineers, including himself, to start working on Titan’s first version of the LSW tire. The concept for LSW is to have a larger wheel and a lower tire sidewall, which Titan was able to do because the company manufactures both tire and wheel assemblies.
“Our low sidewall tires make every piece of equipment – whether it’s a tractor, combine, or sprayer – perform better,” says Taylor. This technology can help reduce power hop, road lope, and soil compaction, according to research Titan has conducted over the years.
In 1999, Caterpillar became the first OEM to offer factory-installed equipment with LSW tires, specifically Cat’s line of skid steers (shown at right).
After that, it became difficult to get OEMs on board. Taylor believes there were two main issues that halted this progress.
First was the need to have a national tire brand, which is part of the reason why Titan made an agreement with Goodyear. The second was the reluctance of big companies to add new features, says Taylor.
“Big companies don’t want to add more. They have their own little thought, and they don’t care,” he adds. “If we were to sell something to them for $1,000, it gets marked up so high before it goes to the farmer. They don’t have a clue. You really need to show them what the advantages are.”
Instead of continuing with corporate channels, Taylor took LSWs to the field. He started with major equipment dealers in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Then Taylor and the Grizz Squad visited more than 170 farms across the U.S. and Canada.
Titan formed the Grizz Squad in 2011. The team of field service technicians is responsible for visiting customers and making adjustments to wheels and tires to get better performance. The squad can also install and properly set up LSW tire and wheel assemblies for farmers. “After 90 days, if the farmer doesn’t like it, I will take them back,” says Taylor.
Despite the resistance he faced, Taylor’s persistence paid off again. John Deere and Case IH now sell machinery with LSW tires, and Caterpillar has expanded its use of LSWs to more equipment lines. The tires are available in a range of sizes for tractors, combines, sprayers, grain carts, skid steers, large mining loaders, articulated dump trucks, and more.