On the Rise: Jeff Wallick
Director of training | K&M Tire Inc. | Age: 35
What was your first job in the industry?
My very first job was working at an independent tire dealership in Akron, Ohio, changing tires and oil. Later when I was home from school at Ohio University, I had a chance to work behind the counter, talking with customers and selling tires. It was the hardest and most valuable work experience I've ever had and helped me gain a genuine appreciation for independent tire retailers who serve their communities across the country.
What attracted you to the industry?
My Dad began his career in the tire industry when he was about 22 years old and a few years later when I was about 12 years old, I had the chance to join him on a "Take your kid to work" day through my elementary school. From the time I was 12 years old, all I ever wanted to do was work in this industry. I'm now 35 and absolutely love what I do. I work for one of the best companies in the industry in a role I really enjoy. I also serve on the board of the Ohio Tire & Automotive Association alongside some of the best and brightest minds in the tire industry.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
The challenges that accompany being part of a half century old company consistently growing by double digit figures each year are as exciting as they are difficult. For me, the most fulfilling challenge thus far has been to build and grow K&M Tire's training and development department over the past eight years or so, alongside an extraordinary team. I am and will always be a "tire guy" first and foremost, but I've enjoyed being part of the career development for so many remarkable people at K&M Tire. Making a positive impact on others has become the mission of my career in our industry.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
I wouldn't be here or working in the industry without my Dad so he was certainly my first and biggest influence. My first real mentor in the business was and is K&M Tire's Vice President of Sales, Jon Schadl. I've also had a chance to work alongside K&M Tire's Founder, Ken Langhals and our President, Cheryl Gossard who are both remarkable people. And finally, my absolute hero in the business was Paul Zurcher. Today, Paul's legacy and the Zurcher family continue to guide so many of us in the industry. We're all better off today because of the extraordinary life of Paul Zurcher.
What’s your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
In late 2015, MTD ran a story about state tire associations and how difficult it had become to find people willing to serve the industry. I left a comment on the article online that I had tried unsuccessfully to join Ohio's state tire association a few weeks prior to that. This resulted in me connecting with the president of the Ohio Tire & Automotive Association (OTAA) at that time. Later, I joined the board of the OTAA and seven years later, I now serve as president. For someone looking to make a real impact on our industry and to serve others, look no further than your state tire association. This is where progress in our industry really happens.
Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your work day?
I’m the director of training at K&M Tire and responsible for building and delivering live and digital training for our team across the country. I spend the majority of my time researching, writing and building training for our management team, our team at our corporate office, and our sales and operations teams all over the country.
What’s one thing you wish someone would have told you before you took your current job?
I’ve been lucky enough to have several great coaches and mentors throughout my life. I wish I had listened to them a little closer when they told me that my job is not to have all of the right answers all of the time. Rather, sometimes the job is to ask the right questions and then really listen. When given the opportunity, I really believe that remarkable people will rise to the occasion.
Tell us about your family.
I’m originally from Northeast Ohio, but now live in Chicago, a beautiful city and one not properly or accurately depicted on the news. My wife and I met at Ohio University in 2008 and we’ve been together since then.
How do you recover from a bad or stressful day?
Early in my career, I definitely had a tendency to approach everything as a sprint. With a little professional maturity came the realization that the most meaningful and impactful work is a little more like a marathon. A byproduct of that realization was a little less stress in my professional life. But like anyone, I certainly face my fair share of professional stress. For me, I try to be proactive whenever possible so I work out in the mornings five or six days a week. That seems to help me work through the stresses of the day a little easier. Reading also has a tendency to open up my mind a bit and gives me a better perspective on things.
Name one thing you wish the average American better understood about the tire industry.
I’m incredibly proud to be from the birthplace of the tire industry in the Akron, Ohio, area. I’m also a second generation “tire guy” and I wish more Americans understood that it’s very possible to have an incredibly fulfilling career in the tire industry. I have good friends I grew up with who work for fantastic companies in all sorts of different industries. I think there’s a bit of a stereotype about the tire industry, but for me, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. Specifically, K&M Tire has been very good to me and my family.
If you could have lunch with a celebrity, who would it be, and why?
I have a great deal of respect for a few celebrities, but I’m not particularly interested in having lunch with any of them. For me, I would have loved to meet Enzo Ferrari. He passed away in August of 1988, but he was an absolutely extraordinary person who left a legacy of excellence in his wake. Otherwise, I’ve been lucky enough to actually have lunch with two people I consider to be icons in the tire industry: Best One Tire Founder Paul Zurcher and K&M Tire Founder Ken Langhals. Both are heroes of mine.
Name a talent you wish you had.
Obviously I think it would be fun to make myself invisible or something like that, but for me, I think one of the greatest examples of talent is to be a small business owner. In my line of work, we directly serve and support 20,000 or 30,000 small business owners across the country. The passion and dedication they have for what they do, along with the calculated risk they are taking is incredibly admirable. And doing that consistently well over a meaningful period of time is relatively rare. I genuinely believe that small business owners are the backbone of our nation and our industry.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
Our industry has faced (and overcome) its fair share of challenges since a guy named Goodyear patented the tire vulcanization process back in 1844. Today, I believe our industry faces an existential crisis around talent. This is certainly not a brand new issue and likewise, I don’t believe there will be a single “silver bullet” answer to the tire and automotive industry talent crisis. And I don’t use the word “crisis” here lightly. I’m lucky enough to serve as the president of the Ohio Tire & Automotive Association and one of our most important initiatives is to help our members in Ohio upskill their employees. In early 2022, we announced long-term training partnerships with leading automotive training providers, including Garage Gurus and the Tire Industry Association and we’re just getting started. Our board is incredibly passionate about serving our members and I hope other associations in other states follow suit. Together, I believe we can lead the way toward overcoming this talent crisis.
Tell us your biggest pet peeve.
I have to admit, it really gets under my skin when I hear people talk about different generations in the workplace in a negative way. It’s easy (and incorrect) to point a finger at younger generations and label them as lazy, or point a finger at older generations and call them entitled. The reality is that different people value different things in their lives and in their careers. For one person, the opportunity to work overtime or take on a new project might be considered a reward. For another, it might be considered a punishment. If we’re going to lead others well, we have to first understand what’s important to them.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
A few years ago, my former boss and mentor asked me a question that changed my life in a pretty fundamental way. She said “If you’re going to train and develop others, what are you doing to develop yourself?” To which I didn’t have a very good answer. So right then and there, I doubled down and then tripled down on investing in myself. I read about a book a week for a few years, but then dialed it back to one or two books a month now. There are two books I go back to towards the beginning of each year: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink are must-reads in my opinion. Where The Rubber Meets the Road by Melinda Zurcher, Six Tires No Plan by Michael Rosenbaum, and Pride in Performance: Keep It Going by Les Schwab are also must-reads for any good tire industry person.
If a tire dealer asked you for advice to find good employees, what would you suggest?
There’s an important distinction I think we need to make here between simple and easy. Just because something seems simple doesn’t mean it’s easy and I think the talent crisis falls into that category. The problem is relatively simple: We need more qualified people and generally can’t find them. But just about nothing about this is easy. For me, I think Einstein had it right when he talked about the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So I think the first step to solving this challenge is to be willing to think a little differently. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks some interesting stats and this surprised me. Between 2016 and 2026, the BLS projects that the number of automotive technicians will actually grow quite a bit, but that labor pool growth will not be distributed evenly. Where auto dealers are expected to grow their labor pool of technicians by about 12%, tire stores are projected to shrink by 3%. In other words, what are auto dealers doing that tire shops are not? To me, it’s a missed opportunity for an independent shop to not have some sort of professional relationship with local or regional technical colleges. The next step is to look at the talent already on the team and invest accordingly. This is a huge opportunity and one I could talk about all day, but for the sake of space, I’ll end it here.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I’m 35 years old today and in 20 years, I’d like to be in a position to make a positive impact on others, especially through my work with non-profit organizations that are important to me. It’s an honor to be able to wake up every single day and serve others through my work. I love this industry and I believe deeply that our brightest days are ahead.