Six Tires, No Plan: The Impossible Journey of the Most Inspirational Leader That (Almost) Nobody Knows

Six Tires, No Plan: The Impossible Journey of the Most Inspirational Leader That (Almost) Nobody Knows

by Michael Rosenbaum


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Most Unlikely to Succeed

No one who charted Bruce Halle’s early years would predict that the poor kid from New Hampshire might achieve greatness as an adult. Challenged in school and growing up in a struggling family, Halle looked like every other kid who would leave high school in the 1940s and disappear into a factory.

Instead, Halle created one of America’s most respected companies, rose to join the Forbes magazine list of the four hundred richest Americans and serve as the role model for the ordinary Joes who seek out success at Discount Tire Company.

Six Tires, No Plan maps Halle’s journey out of poverty and failure and reveals the deceptively simple values that drive success for him, his company and thousands of employees. Key among those principles is Halle’s commitment to passing on his good fortune to the thousands of employees who serve his customers every day. This is Halle’s true passion, and paying it forward to the ordinary guy is a cornerstone of Discount Tire’s ongoing success.

Avoiding the spotlight, crediting his employees for the success of the company, Halle demonstrates the incredible power of perseverance and fundamental values to create long-term success. His journey offers a roadmap worth following in both career and life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608322572
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
Publication date: 03/01/2012
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael Rosenbaum is a business consultant and former financial journalist who has both studied and advised hundreds of corporate leaders over his career. As president of the nation’s largest investor relations agency, Rosenbaum managed operations of a $35 million business and advised CEOs and CFOs at more than 150 companies regarding strategic financial and marketing issues. He holds both a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in business administration and is an active member of the World Presidents’ Organization. In addition to Six Tires, No Plan, he has written three business texts and a collection of commonsense life lessons, Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

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Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2012 Michael Rosenbaum
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60832-257-2

Chapter One


Bruce Halle is smiling as he climbs out of the minivan and surveys the Discount Tire store on Beach Boulevard. It's a beautiful spring day in Jacksonville, Florida, sunny and not too humid. In the bays, tire jockeys are working on a handful of cars. Out in the parking lot, the store's owner, James Turnage, is waiting to greet Halle and his team.

Technically, Turnage doesn't own the store. Every tire and wheel, the equipment and signage, the building itself and the land beneath all belong to Bruce T. Halle, founder and sole shareholder of Discount Tire Company. FLJ05—the fifth store opened in Jacksonville, Florida—is one of more than eight hundred stores in the retail empire Halle started in an old plumbing supply building in Ann Arbor, Michigan, more than fifty years ago.

In a very real sense, though, FLJ05 doesn't belong to Halle. Although he does own the physical property, Turnage owns the keys.

Discount Tire Company has no franchises and no equity investors other than Bruce Thomas Halle, but Halle wants Turnage and every other employee to think of the store as his own—and treat both employees and customers accordingly. While Turnage doesn't own title to the store, he does earn the same kind of returns any minority partner might. In addition to a base salary, he and Halle share in the earnings of the store: Turnage gets 10 percent of the first $200,000 in earnings and 20 percent of every dollar of earnings above that level. As would be the case with any other owner, there's no cap to his earnings potential. The model at Discount Tire is different from the many retailers that set a salary for store managers and then offer a potential bonus of, perhaps, 10 to 30 percent. Because 80 to 90 percent of store earnings flow back to the company, Halle sees no reason to limit the potential earnings of his managers.

This model has fulfilled a dream for thousands of blue-collar guys and they, in turn, have brought Discount Tire to the top spot among independent tire retailers. Discount Tire stores operate in twenty-three states from Florida to Washington, with many of its West Coast outlets operating as America's Tire stores. (The company opened store #800, an America's Tire shop in Rocklin, California, in May 2011.) The company expands its reach with its online Discount Tire Direct, which ships tires and wheels across the country. With stores in fewer than half of the states, Discount Tire captured an estimated 9 percent of the replacement tire market in 2010, posting more than $3 billion of revenues.

Along the way, Halle has joined the Forbes list of the world's richest people, and everyday guys like James Turnage have gained an opportunity they never envisioned when they entered the workforce.

The deal is simple. Halle personally scouts out the location for each store, and the company supplies the capital to buy or lease the property, build the store and provide the inventory and equipment. As store manager, Turnage is responsible for hiring, training, marketing, scheduling, customer service and cost control—the same responsibilities Halle had with his first store more than fifty years ago.

Halle has made a promise to his people: do a good job and I'll provide lifelong opportunity for you. Following that simple promise, Discount Tire has increased its revenues in every single year since 1960 and has never implemented a layoff.

Like most store managers—and like Halle himself—Turnage never thought about the tire business as a career when he was growing up. He had no specific career goals in mind, but he had a good personality, customer focus and a willingness to work hard. He was selling electronics at a Circuit City store in Tallahassee when one of the people he was waiting on, a Discount Tire store manager, suggested he come in for an interview.

Turnage showed up at the store as a truck arrived to deliver tires, so he ended up spending most of his interview time with the rest of the team, unloading the truck. "Really, this is my interview?" he asked—but he liked the people and the team environment. They liked him as well, and he took the job.

Turnage didn't start out as a store manager. Nobody starts with his own store at Discount Tire, even people who were managing a store somewhere else before joining the company. The company starts all its operating employees as part-time tire techs, the people who do most of the tire changing in the bays, or, rarely, as full-time assistant managers.

Since Halle started the company in 1960, this practice has been a sacred promise at Discount Tire. Nobody gets the keys to the store without starting out in a lower level, busting tires.

Just like Bruce T. Halle.

That consistent policy of promotion from within creates enormous loyalty among Halle's employees. At the corporate office, every operating executive up to CEO Tom Englert began his career where Turnage began, and where Halle began—in the back of a Discount Tire store.

Ostensibly, Halle is visiting FLJ05 to learn more about "roles-based management," which is essentially a codification of practices long in effect throughout the company. Each store manager has three or four assistant managers, and the roles-based approach defines each assistant's responsibilities more specifically. One assistant takes responsibility for work scheduling, another for marketing and another for the six-step sales process. From a management perspective, authority is more clearly defined through this approach. As a training tool, roles-based management makes each assistant more of an expert as he rotates through the core functions on the way to getting the keys to his own store.

The roles-based approach was developed by Ed Kaminski, vice president of Discount Tire's San Antonio region. Kaminski has delivered the highest level of sales per store among all twenty-three regions in the company, and Halle suggested that his other regional vice presidents take a look at what Kaminski was doing right. Greg Smith, vice president in Florida and Turnage's boss, took Kaminski's ideas, added a few refinements and became the leading teacher of the system.

"There's nothing wrong with stealing a good idea," Halle says, echoing an idea he himself had stolen from Sir Tom Farmer, his longtime friend and the founder of Kwik-Fit Holdings, the largest auto repair chain in Europe. Farmer sought reputation-management advice from Halle in the mid-1980s, and Halle, in turn, picked up a number of productive ideas from his Scottish colleague. While Halle encourages his people to steal good ideas, including this one, the corporate management team has issued no edicts to force adoption of Kaminski's program.

Ideas are more powerful and supported when they percolate from the ground up, instead of coming down as pronouncements from on high, says Florida VP Smith. Rather than announcing strategies du jour from the home office, Discount Tire relies on interaction among store managers within regions and connections among the regional officers to develop and transmit good ideas.

"All we did was take Ed Kaminski's idea and make it a little better," Turnage explains, referring to an executive he has never worked for in a region one thousand miles away. "Ed is always coming up with good ideas, so I always want to know what Ed is doing."

The roles-based system is remarkably simple. Turnage shows Halle a number of sheets that describe the corporate strategy and the responsibilities of each manager, then brings Halle back to the service bays to show him the system for implementation: three clipboards. Each assistant manager tracks his work on clipboards that anyone can see. Each employee can check progress or gaps at any time on any clipboard.

Rae Huckleberry, senior assistant manager and the guy in charge when Turnage is gone, runs through his role. It's his job to make sure each customer is taken care of properly, from the welcome to product delivery to the benediction—thanking the customer and asking for continued patronage and referrals. He also shows Halle the racks with this week's promotions and featured tires and wheels. The corporate office doesn't decide which products to promote at the store; that decision is left to the store managers as well.

Halle is familiar with the program, but he listens and responds as if he's hearing about it for the first time. He makes no suggestions about refinements or improvements. Halle knows quite a bit about running tire stores, but nothing about the specifics of FLJ05, and Turnage is doing just fine without Halle's help. Halle's job is not to micromanage but to support and inspire.

In fact, supporting and inspiring is the real reason for the site visit, and it turns out to be the best part of Halle's job. Five decades after starting the company and more than twenty years since the last time he rolled up his sleeves and helped unload a truck in one of his stores, Halle still thinks of himself as one of the guys. Spending time in the stores, chatting with the workers, he works to bridge the distance that would naturally develop between a nineteen-year-old kid busting tires and the owner of eight hundred tire stores.

In the corporate office, Halle often greets employees by asking, "What can I do for you today?" He will walk in on meetings to listen for a few minutes, make a minimal number of comments and express thanks to his employees for their contributions to the company. On days when his assistant, Marlene Ambrose, serves lunch in his office, Halle will return the favor by busing his table and putting his plates in the dishwasher. Halle builds morale like he built his company: from the bottom up. On the road, he is likely to spend more time with the service people in a store than he does with his managers.

At his first opportunity at FLJ05, Halle heads back to the bays, where tire techs are working on customers' cars. He walks from bay to bay, introducing himself to the techs he hasn't met on a previous visit and thanking them for their work. During some visits, a tire jockey will hesitate before extending a greasy hand to the founder, but Halle likes to remind them that his hands were just as grimy when he was in their shoes. Halle asks each tech about his family, how he got to Discount Tire and how he likes his job. The next time any of these employees meets Halle—and there probably will be a next time—he will be surprised at how much Halle remembers about this encounter.

Much of Halle's success flows from his retail focus—each store is uniquely important, each customer is uniquely valuable and each employee is a priceless individual. He never talks to the tire techs about tires, focusing instead on their lives and dreams, families and school. As the management team members traveling with Halle congregate in the parking lot, ready to move on to the next location, Halle is still in the back of the shop, chatting with the techs.

It's a pattern that repeats itself during the next store visit of that day. At FLJ06, a few miles away, Halle's first stop is the tire bays, where he spends ten minutes with the techs before focusing on the presentation by Emmanuel Perona, store manager. Gary Van Brunt, vice chairman, and James Silhasek, executive vice president and general counsel, chat with a few customers waiting for service while Michael Zuieback, executive vice president and chief strategy officer, talks with Perona. Halle, though, is drawn back to the bays, where he thanks the techs again and encourages a truck owner to bring more of his vehicles to Discount Tire.

As was the case at Turnage's store, the management team will wait in the parking lot while Halle finishes his good-byes with an extended thank-you to the tire techs. Halle has dined at the White House, won dozens of business honors and received the Order of St. Gregory—knighthood—from the Vatican, but the back of a tire store is still home.

At the end of every site visit, he never seems quite ready to leave that home. In a very real sense, he never will. This is where it all began.

Chapter Two


Fred Halle was one of the lucky ones, although it's difficult to imagine that he recognized his great fortune at the time.

In November of 1930, as the Great Depression spread across the globe, Fred could no longer support his wife and two boys in Springfield, Massachusetts. With limited prospects, Fred and Molly Halle were packing their scant possessions and preparing to return home to Berlin, New Hampshire, where they would live with Molly's parents. For the free-spirited Frederick Joseph Halle, twenty-seven years old and busted, the road ahead could not have looked promising.

Fred had been destined for the stage. Any stage. His French-Canadian grandfather, Alfred Antoine Halle, had come to Berlin from Quebec in the mid-1880s with his wife and two sons. In 1904, he bought the meat department from the C.C. Gerrish & Company grocery on Main Street, where he had worked as a butcher for nine years. With his eldest son, Wilfred, he established the Alfred Halle & Son meat market in the basement of the Gerrish Building. As they began their multigenerational enterprise, the Halles invented the Blanchette Sausage. The hot dog-sized concoction includes garlic, cloves, cinnamon and sage, and nostalgic residents can still order the "Halle Sausage" in a few restaurants in Berlin.

Just as Alfred's eldest son, Wilfred, had joined his father in the business, Wilfred's eldest, Frederick Joseph Halle, would naturally become the heir to the thriving shop. Fred wasn't made for business, however, and showed little interest in following in the family tradition.

A natural athlete and a talented singer and dancer, Fred sought out pretty much any vocation that would draw a crowd. He won a place on the track, basketball and football teams at Berlin High School, where he also sought the limelight as a member of the glee club. He competed in local Golden Gloves competitions in Berlin and tried out for a spot as a catcher with the Boston Braves farm team as well, but his true love was the stage.

After high school, Fred joined the Mayo Producing Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, as a traveling player. In Berlin, he played in Mayo's minstrel show to support a local boys' camp and took the lead role in the comedy Some Boy. By the time he married his high-school sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth (Molly) McKelvey, in 1927, he listed his occupation as a producer.

The Halle wedding at St. Kieran's Catholic Church represented a major detour in the life of Fred and Molly. Molly left her job of five years as a stenographer at Brown Company, the local paper mill, a month before the wedding. The newlyweds would leave immediately after the wedding for a new life 180 miles away, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Fred and Molly's first child, Fred Jr., would be born later that year.

The Halles scratched out a living in their new town, but the world changed for the worse as a recession that began in the summer of 1929 exploded into the Great Depression. When Wall Street cratered on Black Friday—October 29, 1929—Molly and Fred were anticipating the birth of their second child, Bruce, who joined them on May 27, 1930. Fred and Molly held out for a few more months in their adopted city, but finally made the decision to return home to Berlin.

Fred, Molly, Fred Jr. and Bruce moved into the home of Molly's parents, John and Catherine McKelvey, in the shadow of Mount Forist and a few blocks from St. Kieran's Catholic Church. Back in the town he and his wife had left three years earlier, unable to afford a place of his own, Fred Halle's wings had been clipped.

In light of the times, however, the Halle family was among the luckier residents of Berlin, New Hampshire, in the 1930s. Fred found work at the Berlin Fire Department, first as a firefighter and ultimately as deputy chief. Unlike many of his neighbors, Fred held a job throughout the Depression and, though the pay wasn't substantial, his new role as a fireman offered him opportunities to return to the spotlight.

Fred taught boxing to local boys, led a Boy Scout troop with Father Francis Curran, the priest at St. Kieran's and a longtime friend, and played Santa Claus at Christmas parties at the firehouse or VFW hall. He and Molly joined the choir at St. Kieran's, and Molly led a Girl Scout troop as she settled in to taking care of her children and, at times, her parents at 789 Third Avenue.


Excerpted from SIX TIRES, NO PLAN by MICHAEL ROSENBAUM Copyright © 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Back of the Store 5

Chapter 2 A Normal Childhood 11

Chapter 3 Brave New World 21

Chapter 4 The Polished People 27

Chapter 5 The Speech 35

Chapter 6 A Few Good Men 39

Chapter 7 Coming of Age 45

Chapter 8 False Starts 53

Chapter 9 Six Tires, No Plan 61

Chapter 10 'Til Death Do Us Part 71

Chapter 11 Arizona Invasion 81

Chapter 12 Going for Broke 95

Chapter 13 The Lost Boys 105

Chapter 14 Reversal of Fortune 111

Chapter 15 Reset Button 119

Chapter 16 The Whirlwind 123

Chapter 17 The World According to Bruce 131

Chapter 18 I'm Checking His Progress 139

Chapter 19 Paying Forward 149

Chapter 20 Perfecting the System 155

Chapter 21 The Bumblebee 161

Chapter 22 Woodstock for Tire Jockeys 169

Chapter 23 I'm Going to Build You a House 177

About the Author 185


Chicago, IL

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