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New TANA president aims for hole-in-one

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New TANA president aims for hole-in-one

To say Nick Hodel likes golf is an understatement. The CEO of Northwest Tire Factory -- a 135-member distribution group based in Portland, Ore. -- lives on a golf course, plays at least twice a week, boasts an average in the high 70s and shot an 87 last year at St. Andrew's in Scotland.

But Hodel is even more passionate about the tire industry. "It's been very good to me," he says. And he hopes to return the favor when he takes over as the new Tire Association of North America (TANA) president this month in Las Vegas.

Deep roots

Under Hodel's guidance, the Northwest Tire Factory -- formed in the mid-1980s as a six-member, Portland-area buying group -- has grown to encompass dealers in nine states: Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. And it's the eighth largest tire distribution network in North America, according to Modern Tire Dealer data.

But Hodel's involvement in the tire business stretches back to the 1950s, when, as a child, he helped out after school and on weekends at his father Eric Hodel's small passenger tire retread shop in a tough Portland neighborhood. After a stint in the Coast Guard during the Vietnam War, he wound up working alongside his dad full-time. "I was pretty involved in the business."

Then, in 1975, Hodel's father passed away. Nick took charge of the company, working with his mother, Madeline, who handled accounting and administrative duties. "Around the same time, off-shore tires started showing up in the United States," he says.

These tires often were priced lower than the retreads he sold. So Hodel decided to exit retreading and focus on retail sales. It turned out to be a smart move and business eventually picked up.

A couple of years later, Hodel and some local dealer friends got together to buy containers of imported tires from Asia and then split them up. The arrangement worked so well that they decided to run ads together under the "Tire Factory" name (after founding member Al Taylor's successful store).

"Some other dealers asked us how it worked and it took off from there," Hodel says. "We added up to eight or 10 guys within our first year."

By 1992, the Northwest Tire Factory boasted 35 members. Two years later, the group bought several acres in Portland's industrial section and started building offices and a large warehouse that has since been expanded several times. And its roster continues to grow.

As CEO, Hodel's motto is simple. "If somebody can bring something better to the group, we'll adopt it," he says. "My goal is to help our dealers." And TANA, he says, should be no different.

Subhead = Priorities, priorities...

One of Hodel's major goals as TANA president will be increasing the association's presence on Capitol Hill. "We've discovered that dealers want some legislative things done," he says. "The feeling is: We better do something to make sure we're protected. Regulations can have a huge impact on the average tire dealer."

TANA's hiring of lobbyist Becky MacDicken earlier this year was just the start. "We're putting a political action committee (PAC) together to look directly into the bills and issues that affect us. We'll be much more hands-on than in the past."

Training will continue to be a top priority under Hodel's leadership. He plans to unveil an "A to Z" off-the-road (OTR) tire training program next year that will focus on critical areas like safety, installation and repair. Structurally, it will be patterned after TANA's passenger and light truck tire training program.

Hodel also wants to involve board members more in the association's decision-making process. "I want to make sure that the board is in-touch because everyone will have to contribute to keep TANA running at the pace it is." The streamlining of the association's board from 80-plus members to 36 will facilitate that, he says. "The new arrangement is much more efficient."

No new member benefit programs are in the works, Hodel says, "but if we're going to look at any, they will have to be of true value and significance to our members." As for improving relations with the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA), "that door is wide open. And there may be other organizations we might want to run side-by-side with." He declined to identify specific groups.

The overall objective, Hodel says, is to avoid complacency. "We don't ever want to say everything is hunky-dory. Things change and if we aren't willing to adapt, we'll get stagnant."

Subhead = Well-respected

Hodel certainly has the respect of his peers. "Anyone (who's) the CEO of a company the size of Northwest Tire Factory has great managerial and administrative skills," says Ross Kogel, TANA executive vice president. "Plus, Nick's very down-to-earth and extremely easy to work with."

Outgoing TANA President Tom Wright says he involved Hodel in every major decision he made during the past year -- and with good reason. "Nick's a good listener and a good decision-maker. He doesn't jump off the deep end making wild decisions. He wants to get the facts and he does a good job of analyzing them."

Hodel's engaging personality makes him a natural leader, according to former TANA President Pam Fitzgerald. "That goes a long way," she says. "I think it will be a fun and productive year with Nick at the helm."

Tire Factory member Jim Bacon, owner of Jim Bacon Tire Factory in Beaverton, Ore., has known Nick for nearly 20 years. "He's easy-going, but, without question, a qualified leader."

Hodel is looking forward to his upcoming term. "Hopefully TANA can strive forward and do bigger and better things."

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