2 Men Share More than 100 Years at Dunlap & Kyle

Sept. 13, 2022

After graduating from the University of Mississippi and flying B-52s in the U.S. Air Force, Jack King came home to Batesville, Miss. He wasn’t planning to look for work immediately, but one night in November 1967, a friend called him and suggested he meet with Bob Dunlap about coming to work at Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc.

The two men already knew each other well. They grew up on the same street and King’s father, John, worked as the service manager for Dunlap’s father at a local car dealership.

The next generation of Kings and Dunlaps met at a local coffee shop and Jack King was hired that same day. And just like his father, he’s spent more than 50 years working for Dunlap & Kyle.

“It’s almost like working for my family.”

His brother, Denny, manages the Dunlap & Kyle warehouse in Jackson, Miss., and his nephew, Dennis, was promoted to president of the company a couple years ago.

Bob Dunlap likes to joke that the King family is trying to take over.

As an entry-level employee, Jack King’s first assignments were to load and unload trucks. He adjusted defective tires for customers. Eventually he started ordering tires and taking customer orders over the phone — “anything that had to be done,” he says. 

The only job he skipped was delivering tires to customers.

“Bob took me under his wing and let me start working on price lists.” 

In those days, they didn’t spend their days sitting behind desks. They stood all day long and used three carbon sheets to make multiple copies of invoices. “Everything was billed by hand.”

In the wintertime, he remembers the ink in his pen freezing due to the cold air. He’d bring it inside to warm it in front of the heater. To this day, he’s not sure why he didn’t think to swap his frozen pen for a lead pencil.

King says he enjoys the camaraderie of his Dunlap & Kyle coworkers.

“It’s just like being with friends everyday. You’re not trying to prove anything. You do your job to the best of your ability. You learn from watching other people. It’s been a real pleasure. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it — except maybe getting cold adjusting tires. And in Mississippi, it doesn’t even stay cold for too long!”

At age 80, King is inclined to retire or at least semi-retire. But he hesitates.

“It’s like a second family to me. I’ve always felt secure. And if you need any help, whatever it would be, you can talk to people. You can go in there and talk to Mr. Dunlap any time of the day he is here and he will talk to you. 

“In my case, there’s never a time I didn’t walk out of that office and feel that he had helped me — that he had taken my problem to heart and really cared for me and (given) me the best advice he was able to muster. That’s something to be able to do that.”

It’s this personal touch that has made his career so fulfilling, says King.

“I’ve had a good life. I would say the Good Lord first and this company second have given me that good life. I have been truly blessed and one of those blessings is that I’ve worked for Bob Dunlap.”

Buddy Gray grew up in a poor family. He knew his parents couldn’t afford to help send him to college, so he scraped together wages from summer jobs, earned a few scholarships and borrowed money from the government to go to school.

This summer, Buddy Gray started his 52nd year of full-time employment at Dunlap & Kyle. Except for four years in sales, he’s spent every day working in the company’s credit department. Dunlap & Kyle didn’t have calculators when he started — only adding machines. But when others saw how much more quickly Gray could work with a calculator, they were ordered for everyone. Photo Credit: MTD

His next door neighbor, John “Jack” Dunlap, helped him find those summer jobs. And after Gray graduated from college at 22 years old, his neighbor helped him one more time by inviting him to work at Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc.

“Mr. Jack was instrumental in my life. He was like a godfather to me.”

Fifty-two years later, Gray continues to work at the only full-time employer he’s ever known. He’s now a company vice president and the dealership’s credit manager. And to this day, a photo of Jack Dunlap hangs on the wall above his desk.

“For some reason, he took a liking to me,” says Gray. “Maybe he saw potential there.”

When Jack Dunlap suffered a stroke at the age of 55, he was unable to return to work and required the help of a wheelchair. He needed assistance to get up out of a chair and some nights Gray stayed with him to help.

“He and I just hit it off. I told somebody that I’d much rather my father give me a whipping than that man give me a talking to.”

He sees that same kindness in Jack Dunlap’s son, Bob Dunlap.

Forty years ago, Gray’s office phone rang. The woman on the other end of the line asked, “Doesn’t Bob Dunlap help people go to college?”

Gray said yes, but it was usually an employee or someone Dunlap knew. The woman wasn’t deterred. She was caring for her niece from Louisiana and the girl wanted to go to school. “Do you think Mr. Dunlap would help?” she asked.

Gray told her he didn’t know, but he’d be happy to introduce the young woman to his boss and get the conversation started.

She came to the office and Dunlap agreed to help her — as long as she sent a copy of her grades to him every semester.

Four or five years later, a woman appeared in Gray’s office to thank him for making that introduction. She had graduated and was working as a nurse at a local hospital.

“Of course, it was Bob, but it made me feel good that she gave me any credit,” Gray says. “He’s helped so many. He’s been so good to people in this community. He doesn’t want recognition or publicity.”

Dunlap performs those good deeds while running a company that Gray says posts sequential sales increases year after year. “We sold over $1 billion last year — the most we’ve ever sold. I do not remember a year where we didn’t sell more the following year. And we’re ahead of last year.”

Gray credits the company’s focus on service for that success.

“One of our main goals is to out-service the competition. Everybody buys tires. Price is about the same, so service is the key. I think that’s the reason we still have a human being answering the phone — just little things like that. The first impression (customers) get is a lasting impression.”

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.