Sometimes in business, it’s hard to spot your return on investment. With Tire Leadership 21 the return is right in the syllabus. Participants of the class must, upon competition of the course, deliver a proposal that will save or make at least $25,000 for their companies.
However, students of Tire Leadership 21 will bring back more than dollars to their stores; they’ll gain experience, tools and connections to assist them as they become the future leadership of the shop or company.
The two-week educational program was specifically designed to develop the next generation of tire managers and owners. The class was created through a collaboration between the newly created Center for Tire & Service Education and Northwood University.
“Having a formalized program for the next generation in and of itself was the biggest reason Belle participated,” said Jarret Kruse, director of strategy at Michigan-based Belle Tire Distributors Inc., and class participant.
Kruse also noted Northwood’s history of aftermarket education as a reason his company sent a few participants.
Instructors for Tire Leadership 21 are a combination of Northwood’s DeVos Graduate School of Management professors as well as other subject matter experts from throughout the industry.
“I think having all the speakers and presenters with a background in the automotive industry helps,” said Bo Ray, assistant manager at Quality Tire Pros in Chattanooga, Tenn., who is part of the inaugural class. “Some of the other courses have psychology professors that have no idea about the automotive industry. So, those courses are basically trying to teach you what’s in the books, not real life application.”
In April, tire dealers came from across the country to chilly Midland, Mich., to participate in the inaugural class of Tire Leadership 21 at Northwood University. The first session ran April 13-18. For the second session, the class will reconvene Sep. 7–12 at the university’s campus in the much warmer West Palm Beach, Fla.
“Most classes are just a week and there’s no follow-up. I think it’s good that they’re doing a follow-up because you can actually talk about what you changed and it makes you do something instead of just saying a bunch of stuff and going back and forgetting about it,” said Michael Adams, manager at Trax Tire in Thomasville, Ala.
This first class was comprised of 21 participants (30 seats were available) with diverse backgrounds. Some had commercial and retread experience, while others were retail oriented. Participants came from multi-store companies and single-store businesses, and some were second and third generation in the family business, some were relatively new to the industry, and others were tire veterans. Most participants wear several hats at their business and job titles ranged from sales associates and regional sales managers, to service and store managers.
“Each market is different and presents its own set of hurdles. To see how other people deal with it from their different perspectives, that’s huge,” said Bart Proper, store manager for Maryland-based Rice Tire Co. “It’s been very valuable.”
“In my group there are three different guys from three totally different types of businesses. I think it’s good to work with different folks,” agreed Kruse. “We’re all in a similar industry getting a different perspective on these topics.”
The Tire Leadership 21 program kicked off the week at dinner where Dan Brown, executive vice president of American Tire Distributors and president of its Tire Pros unit, shared his thoughts about the industry and their future with the group.
Brown encouraged the students to take advantage of all the week had to offer: the lessons, faculty experience and fellow students’ perspectives. He noted continuing education is important in the ever-changing business marketplace and world.
“If we aren’t committed to continuous education and continuous learning our business is going to be left behind,” he said.
Brown suggested the students find mentors and learn from them to hone their leadership skills. Not all leaders are perfect, he noted, but you can pick and choose qualities from other leaders and use them.
He also said that leaders have to have a broader vision for their company and can’t be afraid to act. They need to focus on more than day-to-day business.
“As you prepare yourself for the future, have courage to adapt your business to the changing environment and make those tough decisions. If you don’t adapt, you won’t be here in the future,” he advised.
Working on the Business
A common theme throughout the week was moving from “working in the business” to “working on the business.”
For the first session, participants lived on-campus at Northwood’s main facility covering a wide range of topics to help develop their leadership and business skills. Topics covered included leadership, finance, business strategy, fraud prevention, marketing, problem solving; more topics will be addressed during the second session this fall.
“There are plenty of classes out there but this one makes you think beyond the service advisor classes and other classes like that. It makes you think more like an owner. It makes you think outside the box. All of us are so busy day-to-day working in the business that we forget to work on the business. This would be a good wake-up for those people that we think are candidates for the next level,” said Howard Fleischmann Jr., of Community Tire Pros in Phoenix.
The group also spent time together outside the classroom allowing for additional networking and learning.
“Not only was the information that I received from instructors valuable, but the relationships that I forged with the other classmates was invaluable,” said Mike Kurk, regional sales manager at Brahler Tire in Jacksonville, Ill. “It’s just nice to have a sounding board and be able to throw around ideas; to see what best practices other dealerships are using.”
“Nobody was shy to tell me their thoughts or ideas because no one felt like they were competition. We were all from different parts of the country. So, people were very open and honest,” Fleischmann said. “It’s always nice to talk to other dealers and get ideas and share thoughts. It’s like networking, but in a different way.”
At the conclusion of week one, the class was divided into five smaller teams to work on a group project to be completed prior to the second session. Each group will explore a topic in detail and present their findings to the class. Topics being researched include a new consumer experience, selling to diverse groups including women, social media practices, online pricing, and attracting and retaining talent.
Additionally, on the last day, attendees had the chance to meet with advisors to discuss their individual project ideas. The advisors will be available to share their expertise with students throughout their individual projects.
Corporate sponsorship funding provided by American Tire Distributors, Continental and Marangoni North America helped to offset tuition cost for Tire Leadership 21 for those in attendance. CTSE encourages other industry-leading companies to come on board to help build a substantial sponsorship fund to support future students. Interested parties can contact Brian Cruickshank of Northwood’s University of the Aftermarket at [email protected].
The CTSE has set tentative dates for the planned 2015 Tire Leadership 21 class. The dates will be announced shortly, the CTSE said. Tuition is expected to remain steady at $5,995 per student (discounts are available for companies sending multiple students).
For more information and to register, visit universityoftheaftermarket.com.