What was your first job in the industry?
In high school I started as a tire technician at Belle Tire then became a salesperson within a few months. When I went off to university, I continued to work as a salesman on the weekends and in the summers. I took a detour from the industry, taking a finance internship at an investment firm which led to several years at a consulting firm. My first job upon returning to the industry in 2010 was in business strategy at Belle Tire.
What attracted you to the industry?
Family, familiarity and opportunity. My father has been in the industry my entire life so I had great awareness and familiarity of the industry. He would take me to the office and have me do odd jobs; clean the windows, work in the distribution center, etc. As I grew older and gained professional experience outside the industry, I began to realize the tremendous opportunity to drive continuous improvement, data driven decision making and innovation in our industry. The opportunity to have an impact on a successful enterprise, combined with the family atmosphere at Belle Tire, was very attractive to me.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
There are two big challenges that I have faced. One is the transition from being an analyst then a manager to now a strategist and executive. Learning to balance my time, and to act mostly as a consultant to my teams and allow my managers and analysts to maintain ownership. The second challenge is change management. Blending the historical decision making based on experience with data to create a more proactive data driven environment.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
I've been extremely fortunate to have many mentors that have had a positive impact on my career. Most recently I have received valuable guidance from our CEO Jack Lawless from whom I've developed a more strategic level of thinking. The biggest influence has come from Don Barnes III and my father, Jeff Kruse. They have had the greatest impact on my success. I have worked with Don for the last eight years through a transition from our organization's second generation of leadership to the third generation. We also have been completing an Executive MBA program together. Through all of these experiences, Don has had great influence on my career at Belle Tire. His successful development of leadership skills and an executive presence at a very young age were traits that I looked to emulate. In addition, his holistic vision for our organization and his strategic foresight for innovation have helped me greenlight many forward thinking initiatives for our company and his support of me and my initiatives has been unwavering.
My father's influence is immeasurable. His career in the tire industry spanned 40 years culminating in 2015. When I think about my father, the first thing that comes to mind is integrity. Ever since I had the opportunity to join the team at Belle Tire, I have tried to emulate him, in doing the best that I could to have an impact on everything that I touched, and acting with the highest level of ethics. My father always instilled in me that we must live up to our reputation as winners that care about our people and our customers, and continue to strive to be bigger and better than the competition. He was great at instilling that sense of team in everyone, and made everyone feel a part of something bigger. My father is truly a leader that cares about people. He looks you in the eye and values your opinion, regardless of if you are an executive or on the front line. A couple of his words of wisdom were; "you can only make others better by being good yourself" and "we cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails."
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
My biggest accomplishment is being a valued member and leader of one of the most successful organizations in the industry and building a team that will have a direct impact on our growth and drive significant value to the enterprise.
How do you spend your work day?
My responsibility is to improve sales and profitability by fostering an innovative and data-centric environment and developing strategy recommendations and aligning our strategies with operational plans to grow profitably. On a day to day basis my team is responsible for our go to market strategy, specifically maintaining our pricing strategy and product strategy. We are in the midst of entering many new markets, so we are quite busy developing the launch strategies for those markets. We also spend a lot of time looking at business and consumer data trends and patterns and developing insights and recommendations for the organization to make strategy decisions with.
What keeps you up at night?
Nothing. While I know you are referring to business challenges that I’m concerned about, I’ve learned that you have to be able to sleep at night. You have to be able to put the phone down and the laptop away and mentally shut down and sleep. What a concept, I know! I’ve learned this lesson the hard way over the past few years. My mind used to race every single night, either with excitement or concern and I couldn’t sleep and would sometimes get up and start working in the middle of the night.
Not to completely sidestep the question, I would say tire margin compression being influenced by ecommerce and dramatic changes in the wholesale channel is always on my mind.
Early bird or night owl?
Night owl. As I mentioned, I would occasionally work late when I couldn’t sleep but then I got used to working a lot of late nights during my MBA program.
Messy or neat freak?
Not necessarily a freak, but certainly more neat.
Growing up, what was your dream job?
Honestly, I just wanted to be a respected leader like my dad.
Tell us about your family.
My mom and dad have been married for 40 years. My dad retired from Belle Tire in 2015 after 30 years. A lot of my childhood memories were related to cars and the tire industry — going to auto shows, SEMA shows and other car shows. My greatest mentor other than my parents was my grandmother, who always inspired me to be great.
Describe your first car and what you loved most about it.
1999 Pontiac Grand Am. The custom ALBA 5 spokes. I think they were 17’s!
What advice would you give your high school self?
Always be humble and learn as much as you can from peers and absorb all the wisdom you can from your mentors.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Donald Trump Jr.
Best way to spend a Saturday night:
Home alone watching college football from noon until midnight on a Saturday!
What song do you crank up loud and always sing along to?
Michigan State University fight song
What habit do you wish you could break?
Checking my email, texts and other notifications every five minutes during the day. I’ve learned to break this at night but still compulsively check it during the day.
What’s your secret superpower?
To make Don Barnes III laugh at opportune times by telling an inside joke or two. This is not easy!
What game show would you most likely win?
The show Press Your Luck from the ‘80’s.
If we gave you $1,000 and one hour, how would you spend the money?
I’d give it to a charity or person in need.
How should the tire industry attract and retain more young talent?
We have to aggressively compensate, develop more formalized retention programs (cultural, benefits, etc.) and promote the opportunities to innovate.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
Opening a Belle Tire store on another continent.
What’s the biggest issue facing the tire industry?
Digitization and the margin compression and supply chain disruption it will cause.
If you could spend a day supporting a charity, what would you do?
I was on the board of a charity for the past six years and have gotten to know several charities in Detroit. I would work with one of our former partners; Humble Design, Forgotten Harvest, or Empowerment Plan in Detroit.
If you could start a new career tomorrow, what would it be?
I’d likely venture in to real estate investing. That has always been a passion.