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Parnelli Jones partnered with winners, and won

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Parnelli Jones partnered with winners, and won

I worked for Parnelli Jones for 20-plus years in a variety of capacities. In many ways, Jones is just an ordinary guy; in other ways, he’s quite extraordinary.

(For the younger readers who might not know, Jones is an iconic American race car driver and business owner. He owned a race tire division, a wholesale tire and wheel division and a retail tire and service network. He’s probably most famous for his accomplishments on the race track. He won races in many types of vehicles and in 1962 at the Indianapolis 500, he was the first driver to qualify for the pole position at over 150 mph. In 1963 he won the race as a driver, and as an owner he won back-to-back races in 1970-1971 with driver Al Unser Sr.)

Placing faith

I caught up with Jones during a recent lunch. He told me, “You can’t grow without placing faith in others.” He also commented, “I couldn’t do anything without my partners.”

As his racing career expanded, so did his business opportunities. Jones shared a key insight with me years ago when he said, “The key to winning in racing is focus.”

He could not afford to divide his attention between racing and running retail stores; therefore, he partnered with other winners.

One leadership theory is the Leader-Member Exchange Theory. The interaction here is viewed as a fair exchange whereby the leader provides certain benefits beyond a paycheck, such as guidance, advice and support, and in exchange, followers reciprocate by giving the leader respect, cooperation, commitment to the task, and good performance. In other words, the relationship and interaction between leaders and followers is more transformational than merely transactional.

This was typical of the relationships at Parnelli Jones, the company, as a result of Jones, the man. Winning and great performance was expected. Expectation levels were high as a result of his passion for winning, which was demonstrated by his racing achievements, and also as a result of the individuals Jones partnered with and placed faith in to oversee and run the company. This winning attitude permeated all divisions of the company: corporate, wholesale, retail, and race tire.

When you meet Jones, you immediately realize he’s just an ordinary guy with competitive traits and great driving skills. He’s very easy to talk with, and as a result, you end up feeling drawn to him. He’s straightforward and likable.

What I and others experienced was that the combination of his personality and leadership style was transformational. Many of us who worked for Jones were ordinary employees; however, the leadership style demonstrated was transformational, which allowed us to grow. The company was an early innovator and recognized leader in custom wheel development and high performance tires. Jones, with a transformational leadership style and partners who shared his commitment to winning, helped pioneer and shape the industry.

A strong characteristic of the Leader-Member Exchange leadership style is that it encourages stronger group members as individuals and as collective teams to have high-quality exchanges with leadership that supports action, progress, collective unity and positive results.

Personality and leadership style played a big part in the success of Parnelli Jones during the early years and positioned the company for growth in all divisions.

I recognize now that structure and style permitted the company to grow from a race tire division to a retail network of more than 50 locations and multiple warehouses.

I see companies every day that are transactional based vs. transformational. In my mind, it’s clearly a result of leadership choices. Starbucks is a transformational company as a result of transformational thinking and leadership. Think about it; they transformed a cup of coffee... a cup of coffee!

The opportunities to be transformational in our industry abound. A consumer can buy a tire almost anywhere. They can even buy a tire on their cell phone. However, where is the best transformational place in your town for a customer to have a tire installed and mounted and balanced and maintained and serviced and repaired and inflated and aligned, and have a free cup of great coffee from a customer/centric team while they are waiting? Winners win! Are you winning?     ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

For more of Wayne Williams' columns, see:

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