Published on November 13, 2013

Ken Brown — TIA president is all about family

Tire Industry Association photo
TIA President Ken Brown in front of his family's dealership, Alan Brown Tire Center, a Les Schwab Tire associate dealership, in Newport, Ore.

NEWPORT, Ore. (Nov. 13, 2013) — Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. is a family business. If you doubt it, just ask Ken Brown.

Mr. Brown, incoming president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), remembers his father Alan was working at a Les Schwab store in Roseburg, Ore., in 1972, owned by his father-in-law. That was when word came from the company that it wanted to expand west of the Cascade Mountains to the Oregon Coast.

Alan Brown packed his wife June, his son Ken and Ken's three siblings in the car and moved the family to Newport, a seaside town 90 miles southwest of the state capital of Salem.

Tire Industry Association photo
Ken Brown oversees operations at the family's store in Newport, Ore., while his brother Tad manages a second Alan Brown Tire location in Toledo, Ore., six miles away.

Forty-one years later, Alan Brown Tire Center is a thriving business. Ken Brown oversees operations at the Newport store, and his brother Tad manages a second location in Toledo, Ore., six miles away. (Mr. Brown's uncle, Lauren Young, runs the Les Schwab franchise in Roseburg, and a cousin Scott Cameron, is in charge of the Les Schwab outlet in Sutherland, Ore.)

However, things were a little bare-bones in the beginning, Ken Brown remembered. The Newport store opened May 5, 1972, in an old lighting supply store the family had spent two months renovating. Two sawhorses with a door on top served as the cash drawer.

"Our billing department was everybody sitting around the dining table after dinner, stuffing envelopes," Mr. Brown told Tire Business.

"I've done just about everything you can do at a tire dealership, including emptying the garbage cans and sweeping the floors," he said.

Everything a customer expects at a Les Schwab store, including all services and all tire brands, are at Alan Brown Tire Center, according to Mr. Brown. "There's no way you can tell the difference between a company-owned store and an associate dealership," he said.

Mr. Brown's parents are still active in the business, he said. "We like to say that it's Dad's name on the sign, but it's Mom who's really the boss." he said.

Mr. Brown and his wife Stephanie have a six-year-old daughter, Annabelle, who so far isn't showing much interest in tires. "Right now she's more into princesses," he said.

Tire Business photo by Bruce Davis
Ken Brown, center, assumed the TIA presidency at the 2013 SEMA Show in Las Vegas from Randy Groh (left), who continues to advise TIA in his role as immediate past president. Mr. Brown will work closely with TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield (right).

Mr. Brown became a member of the TIA board of directors in 2004. Public service has always been part of the Brown family ethic — Alan Brown Tire Center has sponsored many youth sports teams, 4-H clubs and other organizations. Alan Brown himself served six years as an Oregon state representative, as well as terms as a Newport city planning commissioner and city councilor.

Ken Brown was serving on the TIA board in 2011 when he was elected as TIA secretary to replace Chip Huber, who had resigned. Randall Groh served out Mr. Huber's unexpired term until Nov. 1, 2011, when Mr. Brown took over.

Mr. Groh became vice president in November 2011 and then president in November 2012 when Larry Brandt's term ended. His term expired at the recent SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

As TIA president, Mr. Brown said he will continue the work begun by his predecessors to advance the association and its members. TIA's training and educational programs are vastly important in that effort, he said.

He mentioned the association's efforts to expand its Industrial Tire Service program, update its Commercial Tire Service program, and translate the Earthmover Tire Service program into Spanish.

"Those programs need to be updated constantly," he said.

In government affairs, however, Mr. Brown declined to make any predictions.

"The way the (federal) government has been in such disarray, it's hard to say what might happen," he said.

"There are issues we've been dealing with, but Congress just doesn't want to work together."

Mr. Brown praised the efforts of TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield in representing TIA in Congress and state legislatures.

"Roy is such a good spokesman for us," he said. "His work on the issues is so important."

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To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com; 202-662-7211

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