Bridgestone’s Topolcsik: a Female Leader in a Male-dominated Industry

Interview

Melinda Topolcsik

Bridgestone Tatabánya is the Hungarian pride of the famous Japanese tire company. Its 1,300 employees already use modern technology and environmentally friendly solutions in what is set to become a smart factory by 2030. The company has been awarded “Family Friendly Workplace” and “Factory of the Year” titles multiple times. Besides being a key player in the Hungarian automotive sector, managing director Melinda Topolcsik regularly takes a stand on social issues such as sustainability, road safety, workers’ health, and support for the local communities.

BBJ: Bridgestone Tatabánya has been part of the global prostate cancer prevention program for years, so how is Movember going this year?

Melinda Topolcsik: Fortunately, it has become a great success. We have awareness-raising and educative programs every November, and, of course, free screening for all male colleagues. Movember has become a tradition along with B-Pink, which raises awareness of breast cancer prevention in October, as more and more women are working here, too. These issues are important to us, and we strive to ensure that our employees are not only aware of health risks but also actively take action to address them. We recently completed another similar social commitment: we organized a Road Safety Month in September to make life safer in our wider community. Our founder’s motto is “Serving society with superior quality,” and we also aspire to support local communities as best we can. We do something almost every month in the factory or Tatabánya and its surroundings.

BBJ: Does this social commitment appear in other areas of your businesses?

MT: This is what E8 is about: it represents our corporate commitment to support the realization of a sustainable society by providing social and customer value as we become a sustainable solutions company. The eight values (Energy, Ecology, Efficiency, Extension, Economy, Emotion, Ease, and Empowerment) guide our strategic priorities, decision-making and actions throughout every area of the business and operations.

BBJ: Is it also reflected in your technologies?

MT: Of course, it is! We aspire to have the most sustainable solutions in our production technologies, as well as the most efficient. So, 100% of our electricity is from renewable sources, and Bridgestone Tatabánya is actually in the process of becoming a smart factory, which is expected to be completed by 2030.

The increasing integration of new technology trends in tire manufacturing can affect the entire production chain. Digitalization, which has been evolving over the years, is helping to refine and optimize production processes and enables more sustainable methods. For example, with our virtual tire development methods, Bridgestone produces much less waste. Another example is that AI is involved in quality control processes. It can detect even the smallest defects or deviations that are hard to see with the human eye. This reduces waste during the process and also enables better tires in the end.

BBJ: You have been in management positions for 20 years, 15 as managing director, in an industry considered very male-dominated. What motivates you in your daily life?

MT: If you love what you do, I believe it leaves a positive mark on the world, or at least on the industry you are working in. Having this positive impact is a central motivation for me. It is a great responsibility to be the managing director of a world-famous tire company’s factory and, as you would expect, it comes with a lot of work too. But being a significant part of the noticeable, continuous improvement of the company and contributing to the satisfaction of our employees makes it absolutely worth the effort.

BBJ: How do you support female colleagues in this industry?

MT: Since I became the managing director at Bridgestone Tatabánya, four and a half times more female colleagues are working here than before. We continually try to ensure that all our employees, male or female, have equal opportunities to progress. We support the continuous career development of our colleagues through training and courses. Many who today are team leaders started here as total beginners. They are living proof that an impressive career can be achieved here with perseverance and a bit of talent. For instance, we have an area where the manager is a talented woman. Her team, with whom she works directly daily, is almost entirely made up of male colleagues. She started as a quality engineer at Bridgestone and has had a great career path.

BBJ: Are there any general barriers that make it difficult for women to pursue a career?

MT: My experience shows that women’s values and qualities are just as conducive to leadership roles. I hope to be a positive example of this, showing young women that if someone is committed and willing to learn, opportunities are open to them even without sacrificing family for career or career for family. Either way, everyone needs support to achieve, men and women alike.

BBJ: Bridgestone Tatabánya has become one of the largest employers in Komárom-Esztergom County. How do you take care of the enormous number of employees?

MT: We started production 16 years ago with 361 employees, and today we have around 1,350 colleagues. Thanks to this great team, we can produce up to 6.5 million tires annually. Employee satisfaction is one of our main objectives. We have many initiatives through which we can show them how valued their work is, how important they are for the company. Of course, it begins with satisfactory basic pay for everyone. Still, other benefits like meal subsidies, performance and monthly bonuses, a free bus service, and activities and healthcare programs are also part of what Bridgestone provides for their hard work.

People always need reliable leadership, but it’s even more important nowadays, as there are so many recent uncertainties in the world. Specific leadership qualities become more valuable, such as the ability to motivate colleagues, collaborate, communicate effectively, and empathize. The feedback from my colleagues means a lot to me, and I often don my work-safety clothes to visit the production lines and chat, maybe share some jokes and a smile with the workers. These meets give real meaning to my work and are appreciated by my teammates, too.

BBJ: What are your top three goals?

MT: To constantly try to improve, learn new things, and inspire the younger generations to strive to achieve their goals.

BBJ: And what do you do in your spare time?

MT: I try to spend my weekends with my family doing activities that recharge my batteries. I like riding a motorbike because it gives such a sense of freedom that you do not get anywhere else. Besides that, traveling relaxes me: discovering new places, meeting new people and cultures or visiting old favorites. After a great motorbike ride or a nice trip with my family, I usually feel recharged to begin new challenges in the workplace.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 17, 2023.

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