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Cicero Reflects on 43 Years in the Tire Industry

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"It's the relationships that make this industry special and rewarding," says Cicero, most recently CEO of Triangle Tire USA. Cicero retired on June 30, capping a 43-year career.

Within a matter of seconds, any one of us can probably list half a dozen business-related problems that keep us up at night. (Yes, this phenomenon even applies to tire magazine editors.)

Finding good people to staff your stores, working around price hikes, navigating supply chain issues, developing new customers — all of these concerns take up a good chunk of your time and “head space” and rightfully so.

Human nature being what it is, it’s sometimes easy to focus on the negatives while overlooking the many good things about our business.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago during a conversation with Manny Cicero, who retired on June 30, capping a 43-year career in the tire industry.

It isn’t often that a retiring executive from a tire manufacturer makes himself available for an on-the-record conversation about what he has seen during his career. (Manny most recently was CEO of Triangle Tire USA and before that, held executive positions with Bridgestone Americas Inc., Alliance Tire Americas Inc. and other companies.)

He was gracious enough to candidly discuss what he initially described as “the good, the bad and the ugly” aspects of how our business has evolved over the decades.

As we talked, it quickly became apparent that the good outweighed the bad. In fact, nothing “bad” came up. And the “ugly” stuff was nowhere to be found!

Manny talked about how he got his start in the tire industry as a consumer relations specialist after spotting a help wanted ad in the newspaper.

“I was an English major and the world didn’t need more English majors at the time,” he quipped. (He quickly found out that “consumer relations specialist” was just a fancy name for “customer complaint department.”)

Manny reflected on tire dealers he worked with over the years and how management styles have changed.

“There were some legendary personalities” on the dealer side — “the Jim Berlins, the Alex Brewers, the Brad Ragans and so many others, who were big names at the time.

“You learned a lot from some really smart businessmen and entrepreneurs. They negotiated like heck. But this was their business.”

He touched on how consumer tire buying habits have shifted, “with brick-and-mortar giving way to online and online giving way to (business models) where there is no inventory. We didn’t even have an inkling this was possible 30 years ago.”

Other things haven’t changed.

“Sometimes you do business with someone because of the trust you’ve built over the years. And I think there is a spectrum. Relationships appear to be stronger on the commercial truck tire side than on the consumer tire side. And relationships on the OTR tire side are especially strong.” (Manny has sold tires in all three segments.)

Independent tire dealers, he added, remain the most important link in the sales chain. That won’t change either, he said.

As the conversation wound down, I asked Manny, “What’s the best thing about the tire industry?”

His immediate response? “The people. There’s friendship. There’s continuity.

“I once had a sales rep work for me,” he said. “He was quite a bit older and well past retirement age and was worried that I was going to let him go. So he came to me and asked, ‘Are you going to fire me?’

“I said, ‘Why would I fire you? You do a great job.’ But I did say, ‘Can you tell me when you’re thinking about retiring? I need to know so I can start looking for somebody.’

“And he said, ‘I’m never going to retire. Every day, I wake up and I talk to my best friends and I happen to sell them tires. Why would I retire?’

“I have two brothers who work in very different industries. One is in investment banking. His business is much more glamorous, but he always says, ‘You seem to be having a lot more fun.’

“The best thing about our industry is the people. It’s not the riches because there are more lucrative industries. It’s not the prestige because there are more prestigious industries. There are no airs about this industry. Most people don’t take themselves too seriously, with a few exceptions — but we know who they are!

“People who leave our industry don’t leave for long. Many wind up coming back. It’s like quicksand, but in a good way. Once you get in it, you can’t get out — and most people don’t want to get out.

“These are people who I will stay in touch with the rest of my life. And I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say that about the industries they’re in. It’s a special business.”

Thanks, Manny, for reminding us of that.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at mmanges@10missions.com.

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