On the Rise: Jason Meeks
Strategic account manager | Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC | Age: 36
What was your first job in the industry?
I was hired as a commercial tire salesperson for a large dealer in the Midwest. Fortunately, or unfortunately for myself and the dealer, personnel challenges allowed me to experience many different roles early on in my career. In the first two years with this dealer, I learned the local and national account billing procedures when our primary admin was on maternity leave. I worked in the warehouse when we were shorthanded, helped in the service shop and dispatched service techs when our service manager left suddenly. Finally, I was able to get out on the road as a salesperson to meet with fleets and learn their business.
What attracted you to the industry?
At first, I wasn't! I didn't know anything about the tire industry and during my time at The University of Akron I had no thoughts of entering the tire business. Through a career fair at school I met an HR recruiter from a tire manufacturer who set me up with an interview. I had to do a ton of research to understand their business. I ended up not being chosen for their training program but had received a crash course on the tire business through the process. It wasn't until years later a friend of mine in the business told me about an opportunity with a commercial tire dealer. I understood a small bit about the business and more importantly understood how much my friend valued the relationships they had established at this early point of their career. The people seemed to be my type of people. I don't know how to describe it in sufficient detail, but I established an immediate connection with the people I met through the interview process with the manufacturer and the dealer. I wasn't sure what a career in this business would bring, but I knew if I could connect with the people I could learn from them and establish a long career.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
So many to choose from. The first that comes to mind is attempting to establish credibility as a young buck. I came into the business as a 25-year-old with a bachelor's degree at a time when the tire business had an aging workforce. I was thrown into the lion's den with industry experts with 20, 30 or even 40 years of experience. Often I was put in a position of leadership where I had to remind myself who the experts were. I had to keep an open mind and show up every day with the intention to soak up as much education as possible. My advice to young people entering the industry would be to remain humble and lean on wise veterans you are lucky enough to work with. They won't be around forever and you never stop learning in this business.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Hard to choose! From my early days hanging out with the guys in the service shop and learning the best way to stack 315/80R22.5s without hurting yourself, to some of the fantastic customers who have educated me on their specific business. Perhaps the biggest influence came from the people I have reported to. I can reflect on my 10-year career and say that I have been blessed with excellent leadership. The knowledge these industry leaders have bestowed on me is something I will never take for granted. Each have their own methods and knowledge of the business but all have something to offer to anyone willing to learn.
What’s your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
I have checked off several goals that I set for myself upon entering the industry. Sales goals, negotiation goals and overall accomplishments that allow me to continue to remain well rounded in my knowledge of the industry which is important to me. The biggest and pretty recent accomplishment is I have transitioned into a position of leadership where I am responsible for the development of others. I have been able to hire multiple individuals with the responsibility to pass my education and leadership along to them. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly. After all, I believe it is the people in this industry which separates it from others and I am now tasked with the responsibility to keep that tradition going.
Tell us about your current job and responsibilities. How do you spend your work day?
Currently I work as a strategic account manager (SAM). I manage the corporate relationship between Bridgestone and one of our largest fleet customers. This also involves managing the relationship between this fleet and our dealer network, the dealers that were chosen by the fleet to handle their business. We call it the three legged stool. It takes all three sides, fleet, Bridgestone, and the dealer network to assist the fleet in running an efficient tire program. I have two direct reports who assist me in the strategic and tactical efforts required to manage the account. Leading these two individuals is a huge part of the role. I take pride in making sure they are prepped and ready for whatever their next career challenge may be. It may be easier to describe my work week as it can differ from week to week. I travel around the United States and Canada about 75% of the time, meeting with our dealer network, fleet employees and local Bridgestone teammates. We do a lot of program compliance work which involves data analysis. Using KPIs we can determine where our time is best spent to help the fleet drive out program inconsistencies, ultimately driving cost savings. I develop KPIs, reports and operations which are used by my team, the dealers and our local teammates to guide them in implementing best practices. So if I am not on the road with my team, in front of dealers or meeting with the fleet, I am in the office hosting metric reviews and developing reports and new KPI targets.
What’s one thing you wish someone would have told you before you took your current job?
It would have been great to know there would be a global pandemic! The pandemic has really shifted the way we do business, but it's not all bad. It truly accelerated the use of technology and has allowed us to be more efficient in conducting meetings from a far. It was such an interesting time for my customer and my employer. There was so much uncertainty in the second quarter of 2020 and I had just come into the role where I was responsible for this massive customer and two other individuals. Scary times, but it showed me how well structured and well led the Bridgestone organization is. The same goes for my customer. Both organizations persevered through the uncertainty and came out the other side on top of their industries.
Tell us about your family.
I got married in December 2020. My wife and I had planned on getting married that year then the pandemic came along. We decided at the end of the year to elope in Aspen, Colo. We signed the paperwork and had an amazing weekend together talking about what we wanted out of life. Then in May 2021 we hosted 50 of our closest friends and family in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to celebrate. Nine months later we had our first child, Julian! We moved from Colorado back to the Midwest to be closer to friends and family. Her family is from central Michigan and mine from northeast Ohio. Currently, my wife Jenna, Julian and our Berne-doodle, Gio, live in Rockford, Mich.
How do you recover from a bad or stressful day?
My wife is my therapist, God bless her. She lets me vent about my day – she even encourages it. Usually, this is best done over a margarita and some tacos. When weather permits, a family walk around the neighborhood helps clear my head. Sometimes we may sit on our deck and I will purge the day’s thoughts by trying to make my baby boy laugh.
Name one thing you wish the average American better understood about the tire industry.
How important it is! Not only from an economic standpoint, but also from a safety standpoint. Those of us in the industry understand both. Truckers specifically are vital to making sure everyday goods end up in the hands of consumers and doing so safely is no small feat. There are so many brilliant individuals that have paved the way to doing this efficiently and safely. You need both in order to keep the price of goods under control and keep our roads safe.
If you could have lunch with a celebrity, who would it be, and why?
I am not somebody who idolizes celebrities, especially modern day celebrities. The people who come to mind have passed -- I think Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry Truman. I love history and look up to great leaders of the World War II generation.
Name a talent you wish you had.
I had a friend in college that could basically teach himself how to play any instrument. I wish I had any musical talent, which I do not. Also, I would like to be able to speak and understand every language, but I think that is more of a superpower.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
Supply. Not only on tires but with people as well. Our servicing dealers are challenged with large fleet customers getting larger and not having enough product or labor hours to support them. This puts them in a particularly challenging position where they need to evaluate which customers make the most sense for their business. I got my start in the tire industry with a commercial tire dealer so I am empathetic to the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Tell us your biggest pet peeve.
It’s a tossup between timeliness and responsiveness. I view both as a professional courtesy. I try to never keep people waiting and always be available to my peers and customers. I expect the same from my team.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
This is tough. I love passing time on the plane by reading. I read primarily non-fiction. I think I have read all of Erik Larson’s books and just finished Isaac’s Storm, about a deadly hurricane which struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900. Larson uses newspaper stories, diaries and journals as well as other historical documents to put his stories together. I’ve heard it described as a novelistic history and I am a fan.
If a tire dealer asked you for advice to find good employees, what would you suggest?
Good people are so hard to find for tire dealers. College career fairs are a great place to recruit. I was recruited by a tire manufacturer at a career fair at the University of Akron, albeit not the manufacturer I ended up working for. I took a different path by working first for a dealer. But once you get a young person in the tire industry they tend to stick around. I had no idea in 2009 that 12 years later I would be a 10-year tire industry veteran.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
Twenty years from now I will be 56. I have a very aggressive retirement goal so I hope to be spending time with my wife and family in a house high up on a mountain.