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The Ties That Bind: How Do Successful Tire Dealers Cope When Home and Work Collide?

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What if your boss is Mom or Dad? What if your closest, most trusted business partner is your brother or sister? Do you need a psychiatrist’s couch or a punching bag?

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Or maybe – just maybe – you don’t have a problem working with and living with relatives 24/7/365. In fact, what if just the opposite is true – that shared chromosomes or marriage vows are a business advantage we should know more about?

But how do husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, in-laws and cousins manage to work together in an often-stressful environment and still maintain a sense of family? After all, you can quit a job, but you can’t quit being a member of a family. How do you mix the two every single day?

The Flynns

From their corporate headquarters in Mercer, Pa., Joe Flynn and his sister, Tania Warminski, operate the growing Flynn Tire business – 17 retail stores strong, with three wholesale locations and one retread plant. “Our dad, grandfather and uncle started this business in 1964, and now it’s our turn,” says Tania.

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“We both grew up with 2 or 3 a.m. tire service calls in the summer. Dad used to wake us up and take us with him,” she says. “That was a real adventure for a kid.”

“When those calls took us to one of the giant steel mills, Tania and I had to stay in the guard shack while Dad went in and changed tires,” recalls Joe. Although both have worked in the business since they were kids, Tania went full time with Flynn Tire in 1988 and Joe in 1996.

“The whole thing works because Tania and I stay in touch and talk a lot,” says Joe, “and the conversation is not always business related.”

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“I think we complement each other,” says Tania. “I like training and working with people development within the company, while Joe enjoys strategic planning and financial business development.”

“Fortunately, my sister understands people very well,” says Joe. “She sizes them up and understands what makes them tick. That helps us immensely. And we’re not afraid to critique each other’s work. If I put together a financial presentation, Tania tells me how to smooth it out. Because her people skills are better, I do a better job with my ‘smoothed out’ presentation.”

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This story just gets better. “Every Sunday, we go to Mom’s house for sled riding and tubing in the winter and bike riding and hanging out in the summer,” says Tania.

“We don’t work on Sunday, but I still spend time on the books, something that hasn’t been lost on my daughter. She’s nine, and she already knows quite a bit about the business,” she says.

Although you won’t find this in many college textbooks, both Joe and Tania know the importance of humor in business. “Neither of us is very quiet,” says Joe, “and we like to laugh. And, we honestly don’t get annoyed with one another.”

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“Above all, you have to like who you are and who you are working with,” says Tania. “At Flynn Tire, Joe and I are family, and our employees are extended family. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way we like it.”

The Purcells

Together, Bob and Juanita Purcell have built an empire, raised a family and nurtured a vast network of friends. They are respected worldwide for their OTR retreading expertise and their tire business experience. Their creation – Purcell Tire & Rubber, based in Potosi, Mo. – does business in 15 states from 45 retail stores, two large wholesale locations and six retread shops.

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And they have been married to each other for more than 50 years.

The Purcells love to get up in the morning and go to work. “Juanita and I could probably talk about business 24 hours a day,” Bob says. “Anybody can call us at home anytime to talk business. That’s just the way we are.”

Perhaps the most important bond between Bob and Juanita is the respect they have for each other.

When a major fire nearly wiped them out in 1969, Bob had to go on the road for 15 years to put all the pieces together again. By that time, work on the nation’s interstate system had come to an end, as had construction on the Alaskan pipeline – two huge tire sales opportunities.

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The Purcells were in a deep hole, but they fought their way out together.

“Bob was – and is – our best salesman,” says Juanita. “We were poor during those years, but Bob found the equipment we needed, and he rebuilt our customer base and found a new building for our retread plant. At the same time, I was the boss, a role I liked because it allowed me to learn about earthmover tires.”

“And Juanita is truly an expert in the business of retreading and repairing earthmover tires,” says Bob. “She knows what she’s talking about, so if she’s talking about a new tire or one that has been retreaded, you’d be wise to listen.”

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Along the way back to prosperity, the Purcells learned to stop talking about weaknesses and start talking about strengths. They still do. “Living for us is about working hard and telling the truth,” says Bob. “Don’t take credit for everything just because your name is on the door. And never, ever get greedy.”

With so many locations, and outside activities like their involvement with the Tire Industry Association (TIA), the Purcells are almost constantly on the go. “But we don’t think of it as work,” they say. And their unique marriage has never been work to them, either.

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It’s that kind of energy that trickles down to their employees, which includes daughter Jackie, editor of the company’s newsletter – “Tire Talk.” Another daughter, Julie, has been a teacher for the last 14 years.

“We are fortunate to have such a fine group of bright, energetic young people in our company,” says Bob. “We call them ‘Army of One’ and/or ‘Team Purcell.’ They helped us to a great 2004, and we believe 2005 will equal that.”

Clearly, the Purcells don’t make a distinction between work and pleasure. To them, the two are one and the same. The live for each other, their family and their business. That helps explain why Purcell Tire is 100% employee owned, making it one of the largest ESOP plans in the country.

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“At the end of the day, when Bob throws a pork loin on the grill, we think back to the days when a hot dog would do,” says Juanita. Those memories are still vivid, but the Purcells don’t want dwell on them. “We’re doing exactly what we want to be doing and have been for the last 50 years,” they said.

The Rippes

In Menasha, Wisc., the brother and sister team of Tim and Cindy Rippe are advancing the family tradition at Fox Tire Co. Namely, taking care of customers.

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Now in their 40s, Tim and Cindy can’t remember a time when they weren’t following their dad, Herman, around the family’s business. “It’s all we’ve ever known, and all we’ve ever wanted to do,” he says.

Do Tim and Cindy get along, or do they fight like cats and dogs? Let’s say this brother-sister team wouldn’t have a shot at being featured in a tell-all grocery store tabloid. “We rely on each other,” says Cindy. “I contribute, Tim contributes and we each do a good job.”

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With three Super Wal-Mart stores within five miles of their dealership, the Rippes have to be at the top of their game. “The advice that Dad passed on to us is basic,” said Cindy. “First and foremost, the customer must trust Tim and me. We are second-generation tire dealers, and we lose if we cannot deliver on that covenant.”

Is it working? “When I get a call from a parent who says she is sending her daughter in with a credit card and to take care of her, I know it’s working,” says Tim. “We will take care of that young lady just the way we do all of our customers. It’s about their trust in us that we will meet their expectations and the faith we place in them that they will return for more of the same.”

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There can be no mistake; the relationship between Tim and Cindy Rippe is about blood. That transfers directly to the relationship they have with their customers. It has to do with genome harmony, and the Rippes are in perfect pitch.

“When I’m going over the company’s insurance policies, I think, ‘Oh my God, what if something happened to Tim?’ I need him as my brother; I need him as a person, and money is not the issue,” Cindy says. That’s nice to hear from siblings who have worked side by side for 20 years.

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Does Cindy have a secret to getting along? “Secret? There isn’t any secret,” she says. “I guess Mom and Dad passed along their vision about learning from one another. I’ve never thrown the front-door keys at Tim, and I never will, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“We’re not competitive with each other,” says Tim. “Yes, we have disagreements, but we understand the difference between business and family. Cindy and I are the same but different. If she makes a decision, and I disagree with it, I don’t dispute it. I have learned that Cindy makes the same decisions I would make, whether it’s vendor related or an employee issue. We have always had the capacity to find common ground, a trait I believe will live in the Rippe family forever.”

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The Andersons

“Like anyone else, we disagree once in a while,” says Paul Anderson, half of a brother duo that owns Fargo Tire in North Dakota. “It can even become very heated. But five minutes later, it’s like nothing ever happened.”

Their innate common sense and sound judgment not only makes Fargo Tire successful, it helps keep the stress level down, the brothers say.

To better understand a normal working day with the Anderson brothers, it helps to know that Paul is a bit stronger with computer matters, while Roger works more with inventory. For both, the tire business is the only one they have ever known, and they’re proud of it.

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“We started by sweeping floors and have worked every job in the dealership,” says Paul. “To this day, either of us will still go out in the bays and change tires. You do what you have to do to survive and prosper in this business.”

To ensure continuity, the Andersons keep the lines of communication wide open. If they need to call one another after hours, they do. And there has been more reason to do exactly that in recent months. “A second store is in the works,” says Paul. “Although we haven’t decided for sure, one of us will stay at the present location, and the other will work at the new store.”

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Will that wreak havoc on this brother-and-brother relationship? No way, they say.

The Williamses

At age 60, life is pretty good for Bill Williams. The chairman and CEO of Jack Williams Tire Co. can sit back and ponder life. Or he can go change a tire. Or he can relax on his boat in Ocean City. Or he can immerse himself in the business – which, more often than not, is the case.

It’s his choice, thanks to a well-raised family, which is already following in his footsteps.

“I share everything I know with my upper management people, including my family,” he says. “And I expect all of them, including my kids, to adhere to a strict code of conduct. I have told all my children that they must be at work before our employees arrive, they must stay until the employees leave and they must work harder than any employee we have.”

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He means it. When Williams hears someone say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” it raises his blood pressure.

“That’s just flat wrong,” he says. “To me, that statement has everything to do with complacency and nothing to do with changing to stay ahead of the competition. Never settle for what you have. Stay growth oriented, and always keep yourself two or three steps ahead of the competition.”

Translation: The Williams family thinks hard and works hard. And is ready to change when necessary.

“A few years ago, my son, Jason, made me aware that we can’t do business the way we did 20 or 30 years ago,” says Williams. “It simply won’t work. So, I listened and learned while he taught me. He was right. The ‘tuner crowd’ that does business at our Auto Addictions outlets would be uncomfortable doing business at a traditional Jack Williams outlet.”

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Although long hair, tattoos or body piercings are not permitted at Williams’ 22 retail outlets, or at the wholesale business or corporate headquarters location, the company’s recent addition – Auto Addictions, which caters strictly to the high performance crowd – has no such restriction.

“Although I feel uncomfortable doing business that way, my family understands that we have to change with the times. And that includes me,” Williams admits.

And part of that change is preparing for the future, the next generation of Williamses who, like Bill, will take over when Dad is ready for full-time retirement.

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“I started working with my dad (business namesake Jack Williams) when I was 12,” he says, “and went to work full time when I was 17. I learned from my dad, and now I’m teaching my children what he taught me.” He is rightly proud of his hang-tough family for moving forward on sheer Williams’ family grit.

Wife, Sandi, is vice president of the firm’s real estate business; son, Scott, president and CEO, is the sales and marketing guy; son, Jason, executive vice president, is the operations whiz; and daughter, Tracy, vice president, takes care of public relations and community affairs matters with the help of daughter-in-law, Stephanie, who is married to Scott.

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“My kids have been following me around the business since they were toddlers,” he says. “Like me, they’ve worked in every job in the place, from window washing to planning next year’s marketing strategy. None of this is really new to them.”

Along the way, Bill and Sandi made sure each of their children earned a college degree. But it is the business education being provided by Mom and Dad that serves the Williams children best.

After hours, the Williams clan still spends a lot of time together. Williams and his sons spend time running their three Labradors on a 200-acre spread the elder Williams calls home. “We do this several times a week because it’s good for the dogs, and it’s good for us,” he says. “My boys and I also spend a lot of time fishing, while Sandi, Stephanie and Katie (Jason’s wife) go on shopping trips.

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“It’s not a sexist thing,” he says of the divided recreational activities. “We all enjoy each others’ company, and business talk is never more than a sentence away.”

In so many ways, Williams is a happy man. “Compared to what I used to do, I almost feel retired,” he says. “I want this business to be controlled by my family, and I’m delighted that my kids want to do what I hoped they would do – take over.”

The Faughts

A.J. Faught, vice president of Northwest Tire in Flint, Mich., is grateful to his dad, Jim, for providing all the room he needed to make a good career decision. “Dad didn’t force me into the tire business,” says A.J. “He let me make that determination for myself.”

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It happened when A.J. was three quarters of the way through the University of Michigan as a business major. “Dad asked me if I was interested in a sales job, and I said, ‘Yes.’ And it was while I was working in sales that I came to understand that the tire business is really a people business.”

A defining moment in A.J.’s tire career came quickly. “Dad made me a store manager, but not until I met his requirements – the same ones he imposed on all his store managers. I was not his son; I was one store manager out of 11. And he told me something I have never forgotten: ‘If you are not successful, I will take the store away from you the same as I would anyone else.’”

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What a challenge. “Dad meant what he said, and I wasn’t going to disappoint him,” says A.J. “I knew failure on my part would hurt him more than it hurt me. Fortunately, Dad taught me how to sell tires and respect other people. It’s a combination that cannot fail.”

Values make the difference to A.J. Faught and his dad. A.J’s nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter have already starred in their first Northwest Tire commercial. Is that the beginning of a new generation of Faughts at the head of Northwest Tire?

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“Not necessarily,” he says. “Just as Dad didn’t push me into the business, neither will I push my children. That will be their decision, and however it turns out will be fine with me.”

So, it seems family members can mix business and family and be successful with both. No doubt, the path is marked by occasional disagreements – sometimes loud ones – and not every family relationship can withstand the daily pressures and rough waters that come with running an independent business.

For every couple like the Purcells or brother/sister combo like Joe Flynn and Tania Warminski or close-knit family like the Williams clan, there are dozens of family businesses that don’t make it. But for those dealer families we talked to, success came because of mutual respect, common sense and love.

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That’s the end of this story, except for this: Wall Street maven Warren Buffet once said: “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do.”

And if you can do that with people you love, all the better.

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