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Passing the Torch: Survey of Our On the Rise Program Participants Shows Great Potential

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Passing the Torch: Survey of Our On the Rise Program Participants Shows Great Potential

A generational change in leadership is well underway in the tire industry. Baby boomers (currently age 51-70+), many of whom founded tire dealerships in the 1960s and 1970s, are in the process of retiring. In many cases, tire dealerships are being managed by GenXers (age 35-50), and now, even by millennials (under age 35).

Employees in tire dealerships follow a similar change pattern. Overall demographic research indicates that more than 50% of our workforce will be in the millennial age group (ages 16-34) in another four to five years. (Note: Group definitions differ. We are using U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics).

For the next few years, firms will have three distinct generations working side by side. The generational differences, and many similarities, tend to create both tensions and opportunities.

To better understand the crop of young leaders in the tire industry, Modern Tire Dealer began to identify people “On the Rise” (see article starting on page 28). The list is growing daily as industry personnel changes highlight individuals who are becoming tomorrow’s movers and shakers. We surveyed our current list of those “On the Rise” to determine the group’s general demographic makeup and document their opinions on a variety of questions related to their work. A total of 60% of our list responded. We found our relatively small population sample to be surprisingly consistent in their responses to our questions. Here is what defined our respondents.

Geographic coverage: We received responses from coast to coast. East Coast states comprised 42%. Middle America made up 40%, and the West Coast was 18% of our responses.

Age range: The average age of respondents was 32.5 and the range was from 22 to 40. About 62% fall between ages 25 and 34. Not all respondents in those two age groups consider themselves millennials. They say that they identify more with GenXers.

19-24 = 2.2%; 25-30 = 31.1%; 31-34 = 31.1%; 35-40 = 35.6%

Education: Not too surprising, our young leaders are well-educated, with 47% holding college degrees (13% have graduate degrees). Another 33% have one or two years of college education, while the remaining 20% have high school/GED diplomas.

Respondents’ supervisors’ age range is:

25-30 = 2.3%; 31-34 = 2.3%; 35-40 = 18.2%; 41-50 = 36.4%; 51+ = 40.9%.

Three fourths of our young leaders have supervisors well above age 41, so there are definite generational differences, but there also are plenty of opportunities for those on the rise to learn from mentor-supervisors.

Millennial group: About 40% of respondents identified themselves as millennials. The remaining 60% were in the 35-40 age group, identified as the younger GenXers.

Leadership level: Fully 76% of respondents are already in some form of leadership position.

About 18% are in ownership/partner positions, while another 58% are managers, department supervisors, or team leaders.

Work functions: Marketing and Sales led the way with 62.2% of respondents involved. Operations/Services functions are the focus of another 28.9%, while Administration/Accounting occupies 8.9%. The majority of younger leaders are on the front lines for sales and profit generation.

Next, we asked the respondents about their work environment.

Overall, our younger leaders are very positive about their positions and their ability to make significant contributions.

Here are the survey statements and the responses we received:

I am fairly paid for the work I do.

Strongly agree = 31.1%; Agree = 48.9%; Neutral = 17.8%; Disagree = 2.2%

More than three quarters of our survey respondents feel they are fairly compensated. This bodes well for retention of these leaders.

I am recognized when I produce outstanding work.

Strongly agree = 35.6%; Agree = 42.2%; Neutral = 17.8%; Disagree = 4.4%

Most respondents agree that they receive recognition when they produce outstanding work. Take care when designing incentives, because many of the younger leaders value time off and flexible work schedules as much as cash or prizes. Incentive plans become quite complex when you deal with three generations in the workplace.

Generational differences may account for some of the 22% who are unsettled about the recognition factor.

I have ample opportunities to apply my talents and skills in my work.

Strongly agree = 40%; Agree = 40%; Neutral = 6.7%; Disagree = 13.3%

While most respondents do feel they can apply their talents at work, here again we see that 20% of young leaders feel frustrated by obstacles when applying their skills on a day-to-day basis. Young managers grew up with rapid technology advances and may have a lot to offer to their virtual teams if allowed to operate in their own highly connected ways.

The opportunity to utilize technology will be increasingly important as more millennials move up in authority.

I am satisfied with the job-related training and personal development offered.

Strongly agree = 24.4%; Agree = 46.7%; Neutral = 15.6%; Disagree = 13.3%

Young leaders need job-related education to supplement their strong formal education. It appears that 70% of firms provide excellent training opportunities while another 30% need improvement. Our MTD Tire Dealer of the Year nominees invariably cite ongoing educational efforts as a high priority in their organizations.

I believe that there are career advancement opportunities available to me.

Strongly agree = 31.1%; Agree = 44.4%; Neutral = 15.6%; Disagree = 8.9%

Desire for career development follows the same pattern as job-related education. About 25% of tire industry firms need improvement in development efforts for individuals.

Long-term retention of high potential employees may depend on a firm’s commitment to individual development and personal career progress for young leaders and for others in the organization who strive to improve their skills and enhance their careers.

I am determined to give my best effort at work each day.

Strongly agree = 73.3%; Agree = 24.4%; Neutral = 2.3%; Disagree = 0%

Most of the industry’s younger leaders are highly motivated to succeed. They strive to give their best to the firm every day. This response flies in the face of ‘conventional wisdom’ that the younger generation is lazy and self-centered. Our young leaders are definitely worth the time and money required to help make them even more effective.

I get involved in my work so the day goes by quickly.

Strongly agree = 57.8%; Agree = 33.3%; Neutral = 8.9%; Disagree = 0%

Work consumes our young leaders. They stay busy multi-tasking and focused on the tasks at hand. Those who are absorbed in their work have no time for grumbling or time wasting.

I usually adapt quickly to changes and difficult situations.

Strongly agree = 51.1%; Agree = 44.4%; Neutral = 2.3%; Disagree = 2.2%

Most young leaders are used to rapid change... they have experienced change all of their lives. Boomers and GenXers have also experienced changes, but of different types and at somewhat slower speeds.

Millennials may be more prone to expect change and they say that they can adapt quickly. Millennials should thrive on positive changes, but they also may respond to negative impacts just as quick.

In my organization, we help each other when the need arises.

Strongly agree = 51.1%; Agree = 40%; Neutral = 4.4%; Disagree = 2.3% Strongly disagree = 2.2%

One major attribute of millennials is their desire to work in teams. They enjoy frequent interactions with groups of their peers.

They also have unique abilities to work virtually, using today’s technology, with others even in different geographic locations. Their lives revolve around technology and the use of social media to stay in touch and collaborate.

Hand-held devices and powerful software multiplies the work and collaboration that an individual can accomplish in a single day.

I enjoy my coworkers. We value teamwork and cooperation, and I try to meet expectations.

Strongly agree = 60%; Agree = 37.8%; Neutral = 2.2%; Disagree = 0%

Past writings have pointed out the degree of loyalty young employees feel toward their work group. They have more loyalty to their group than to the particular firm. Some even stay with a firm out of group loyalty when it might be in their interest to make a change. It just makes sense to seriously consider work group dynamics, and include group members, when contemplating organizational changes.

I respect my supervisor and my supervisor respects me.

Strongly agree = 40%; Agree = 44.4%; Neutral = 11.1%; Disagree = 2.3%; Strongly disagree = 2.2%

Mutual respect between young leaders and their supervisors seems strong in most cases. The responses seem to point to many helpful mentoring relationships within the tire industry.

Astute supervisors quickly identify those on the rise and make plans to develop their leadership skills and create succession plans to ensure the firm’s future growth and success. Some young leaders are working in family-owned dealerships. They often attain ownership and a responsible role at an earlier age, with guidance from a senior family member.

I am able to balance work with my personal life and obligations.

Strongly agree = 24.4%; Agree = 53.3%; Neutral = 17.8%; Disagree = 4.5%

Work/life balance is an important factor for both GenXers and millennials. Many value their ability to balance work with their family and outside activities as much or more than added income. A careful look at prior compensation programs may point to more balanced packages. Young leaders may respond even better to combinations of income incentives along with other desirable non-cash components.

I plan to stay in the tire/vehicle industry for the foreseeable future and build a career here.

Strongly agree = 51.1%; Agree = 35.6%; Neutral = 11.4%; Disagree = 2.3%

Here is the really good news! Our young leaders plan to stay in the industry and build their respective careers in the tire business. Fully 87% plan to stay, an enviable retention rate for any industry or firm.

Retention of tomorrow’s top leaders should be a high strategic priority for any growing tire industry organization. It is often said that the cost of educating and retaining good people is only exceeded by the ultimate cost of excessive talent turnover!  

Dick Morgan is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and president of Morgan Marketing Solutions, Inc. in Dallas, Texas. Morgan helps leaders accelerate profitable growth by enhancing a team’s ability to create and deploy right actions, right now.

He has been involved in the tire and rubber industry since 1974, first as senior vice president of marketing for Long Mile Rubber Co. Since its founding in 1989, his consulting firm provides business advisory services to tire dealers, retreaders, and rubber manufacturers.

Morgan is one of the judges for Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year award. He also is an executive consultant for Religence Inc., a West Coast technology consulting firm, and he is a business advisor for Texas Consilium, a non-profit organization providing expert assistance to Texas manufacturers and distributors.

For more information, visit his website at or call (972) 931-7993.

See our On the Rise participants here

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