Jerry Bauer had done nearly every job at Bauer Built Tire & Service before taking the reins from his father in 1976.
During high school, he pumped gas when Bauer Built was a gas station tire center. He swept warehouse floors, changed tires and even supervised a crew after his first year of high school in installing tire racks—what Jerry calls his “first taste of management.”
“I would never ask someone to do something I hadn’t done myself,” he says.
Like many in the industry, Jerry grew up around tires. As a kid, he remembers tagging along with his father on visits to the retread plant and being in awe of how it all worked. His father, G.F. “Sam” Bauer, founded Bauer Built as an oil jobbership in Durand, Wisconsin in 1944. The following year, he opened a retail gas station with tire sales and service while continuing with the bulk oil business. Ten years later, the company began manufacturing retreads, and by 1974, the business amassed $10 million in sales and operated two tire centers, a retread shop, a wholesale division, a NAPA Auto Parts store, and a Holiday Convenience Store, along with the bulk oil business, in Wisconsin.
After he graduated from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire in 1974, he spent two years working in Bauer Built’s sales and purchasing department full time, mentoring under his father and one of the company’s longtime employees. During those years, one of the early lessons he learned was how teamwork is key in all aspects of the business.
“Our company slogan says, ‘Our strength is in our People and the Customer we serve,’” Jerry says. “We say that because we mean that. It is important to treat people whether employees, customers, suppliers or anyone with the utmost care, courtesy and respect.”
That mindset is one that’s stuck with Jerry throughout his 43 years at the helm of the company. In 1976, Jerry, along with some of his siblings, acquired a majority interest in the company. He took over the reins as company president from his father and was elected to the company’s board of directors. In 1980, when his father retired, Jerry became chairman of the board as president and CEO. Most importantly, he has been responsible for Bauer Built’s steady growth from two tire and service centers and one retread plant in 1976 to 40 tire centers and seven retread manufacturing facilities in April with the recent acquisition of Allied Oil & Tire.
“Most of our early growth was through acquisitions,” Jerry says. “We’ve not been afraid to take that risk, and we’ve been successful more often than not. …Today, those opportunities don’t exist like they used to.”
In 2013, Jerry’s son, Tad, became president of the company, however, Jerry continues as its chairman of the board and CEO. He says two areas of future growth for Bauer Built are expansion and service.
“If we can get more of that service business, it’s a great opportunity to grow and expand, and we’re looking to grow that segment of the business,” he says, adding that growth through acquisition or grassroots continues to be an option.
But with a keen eye on growth, Jerry never forgets to give back. That means serving on the boards of local businesses, on the City of Durand’s Planning Commission and on local charities’ boards. That also means giving back to the industry, serving on national dealer councils for Michelin and Firestone, and on the Tire Industry Association’s board (formerly TANA and NTDRA), and becoming its president from 1990-1991. In addition, Bauer Built matches each donation its employees make up to $250, and each store is encouraged to get involved in its communities.
That’s just one of the lessons his father taught him and one he’s learned along the way.
“It’s not an easy business,” he says. “You have to work hard. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy. You have to take care of your people and go the extra mile to accomplish your goals.”