Coincidentally, “cutting out the middle man” is one of the themes in the business bio of Bruce Halle, Six Tires, No Plan: The Impossible Journey of the Most Inspirational Leader That (Almost) Nobody Knows by Michael Rosenbaum, a look at the owner of the Discount Tire company.
Those familiar with my reading patterns might find this an odd book to grab my interest, but the way Halle went from “rags to riches” was deeply engrained in the same “openness”, “customer service”, and “treating people right” lessons constantly pushed by Social Media gurus like Scott Stratten, Chris Brogan, and Gary Vaynerchuk … decades before they (or “social media”) came on the scene. It's a testament to how basic values can make business thrive if consistently applied, without undo interference from MBAs and accountants.
Bruce Halle was a child of the (1st) Great Depression, hailing from small-town New England. His family barely was able to eke out a living, and came to depend on friends and relatives for food and shelter. This, no doubt, etched into young Halle a feeling of responsibility for others close to him. A middling student, he looked like the type that would get out of highschool and move into a factory job, but was encouraged by one of his teachers to at least give college a shot. This he did, but didn't fare particularly well through his first two years, so the timing of the Korean War was quite fortuitous for him, giving him a break to “get his head right”. While in the service Halle manage to get married and start a family, so when he returned to college, he had both school and work hanging over his head, and, again, with the help of particularly interested teachers, managed to graduate. He was very successful selling cars, and things looked promising, but he then shifted into insurance sales, which did not work so well, and eventually partnered in an automotive service business which ended up failing (due to licensing issues with suppliers), leaving him with the title's “six tires, no plan”.
However, Halle's genius lay in interpersonal connections, and he set up his half-dozen tires in a storefront he personally rehabbed and began to offer great value, personal attention, and a pattern of free services. He found he could get “off-brand” tires for a great deal less than the “names” (although these were frequently identical), and came up with the name Discount Tire. Just as he'd had success in selling cars, his skills caused the business to thrive.
As the business grew, Halle did things differently than most other companies. Firstly, he'd find guys with a lot of enthusiasm, but few prospects, and give them a clear path to both a solid paycheck, and a decent shot at moving up to management positions. Secondly, to get into management in the company, you had to start out “in the bays” installing tires … he wasn't hiring the business school grads in suits, unless they were willing to get their hands dirty for a few years. This created an atmosphere of camaraderie on all levels of the company, as (after a while) your boss, your boss' boss, and your boss' boss' boss had all been right were you were now, and knew what your daily concerns, challenges, and frustrations were. Halle (initially with partners) also personally owned all the stores, so there were no outside interests and agendas … making it possible for him to pluck an assistant manager from one place and offer him a new location on the other side of the country if he felt that was the right man for the job, and using what he called “the reset button” if one of these shifts had to be reconsidered.
As in any corporate story, there were ups and downs, experiments that didn't work, and decisions that went awry, but generally speaking, Discount Tire exhibited impressive growth, spreading around the country. Halle, himself, had personal challenges, with his wife of nearly 40 years succumbing to cancer before her 60th birthday, and his near-fatal mountain bike accident four years later. He survived both of these, appointing a new CEO following his recovery from his accident, and soon afterward re-marrying, bringing in a “new partner” on several levels.
The specifics in here of how Halle dedicates so much to the employees of Discount Tire should be inspiring to anybody in business … and the practices he brought to bear in building his business should be a lesson to anybody looking to improve their life. Six Tires, No Plan is a delightful read, and brings a whole different perspective on some “business teachings” of more recent vintage. This is a brand-new release, so should be available via your local bookseller, but it's also at a 33% discount at the on-line big boys. Even if you're not interested in business, careers, or the like, this is an inspiring read about somebody who made a great success of himself by “doing it right” … so you should check it out.