On the Rise: Stephen Panzera
Commercial sales representative | Service Tire Truck Centers Inc. | Age: 33
What was your first job in the industry?
I worked the final inspection post in our York, Pa. Michelin Retread Technologies Plant on second shift. I cross trained on a number of different posts, eventually working my way up to Third Shift Supervisor, which I did for three years.
What attracted you to the industry?
Honestly, it was a steady job with decent pay. I had been working nights and weekends in the restaurant industry for years, and needed to make a change. A good friend of mine had been with Service Tire for some time, and told me they needed operators in their retread plant, so I gave it a shot.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Relocating to a different branch and town, and taking on my new position with virtually no sales experience. After a brief training period, I dove in head first and started my "on the job" training program, right in the middle of our busy season. I bumped my head quite a few times along the way.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Allen Kershner and Jim Stufft, the branch manager and plant managers at our York store. They were an example of Service Tire's commitment to quality and customer service, and gave me all the tools I needed to be successful in the tire business. I still lean on them from time to time when I feel like I'm in over my head.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
My first full year covering my account base in Chambersburg saw overall sales growth of half-a-million dollars from the previous year. As far as I'm concerned I'm still brand new to commercial tire sales, but I feel through hard work and a strong technical background, I've been able to have a positive impact on my customers’ fleets, and make some great friends along the way.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I see myself settled down, enjoying life with my family, hopefully finding a perfect balance between life and work. I've always seen myself finishing my career with Service Tire, ideally in some sort of regional managerial role where I can constantly face new challenges and impart some wisdom on the next generation of people in my field.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
I believe it's the influx of cheap, low-quality Chinese import tires. I've seen the impact it's had on the retread industry, as well as how it's impacted some of the fleets I deal with. Opting for a significantly cheaper up-front cost seems easier than buying into the value of a tire program centered around quality and best practices, but in the long wrong I don't think that's always true.
What’s the one thing you wish someone would have told you before you entered the industry?
That loyalty isn't quite what it used to be. I've seen great service and long standing relationships get trumped by a lower price on more than one occasion. After taking it personally, wondering what I should have done differently, I came to realize it's more a reflection of a change in culture. More and more the most important thing seems to be the bottom line, which is understandable, but still kind of a shame.
How do you encourage others to enter the industry?
Talking about my own personal experience has always helped. I entered the industry with little to no experience, and solely through hard work and some good fortune have I been able to make a very decent life for myself, and made some great friends along the way.
Tell us about your family.
My parents still live in my hometown of Columbia, Md. We, along with my brother and sister, were all very close growing up. My parents taught me what it meant to be a responsible, respectable man, and how to treat other people. My younger brother passed away from cancer many years ago, which is one of the hardest things we have all gone through. We leaned on each other for support, and grew closer in the process. Together, we all found a way to keep moving forward.
What’s your favorite weekend activity?
Anything exciting. I love to ride my motorcycle, go snowboarding, play sports — anything that involves being with my friends, being outside, and having a good time.
What keeps you up at night?
Most nights nothing. I've always been very fortunate to be able to turn off any pressures from the outside world, relax, unwind, and fall right to sleep.
Tell us something about yourself others might not know.
As a young teenager, I was incredibly awkward. Besides the braces and bad skin, I was extremely self-conscious, and had a tough time expressing myself. I eventually grew out of it, and am extremely outgoing. I talk to strangers for a living, so I better be! But it took a few years to get there.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream, especially milkshakes. Despite knowing they're no good for me, it's always difficult to resist the temptation. My at-home recipe is nothing short of perfection.
Name a talent you wish you had.
I've always wished I could sing. Like, stop-people-in-their-tracks-and-win-American-Idol sing. Not because I want to be a famous singer, I just really love music and it would be great to be able take music with me everywhere.
What’s your favorite food?
Definitely Italian. My favorite has always been cheese tortellini. My mother would make us whatever we wanted for dinner on our birthdays, and I would choose that every year without fail.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Probably Hunter S. Thompson, the author. He had some incredibly interesting ideas about politics and America, and I feel like dinner would probably lead to some sort of crazy adventure that could possibly end up in the pages of the next great American novel.
If we took your cell phone away and said it would cost you $1,000 to get it back, how long would you survive until you paid the ransom?
I think I'd manage just fine. While I'm just as guilty of overusing my phone as anyone, within a day or two I'd get over it and take my $1,000 down to the beach to have some fun.