Published on April 2, 2014

OTHER VOICES: Lessons learned from 3 industry stalwarts

(Tire Business photo)
Dave Zielasko

By Dave Zielasko, Tire Business staff

AKRON (April 2, 2014) — Sometimes the passage of time is difficult, particularly when you learn that some of those you most admired over the years have passed away.

This realization hit me hard recently as I learned of the deaths in March of Bill Floyd, former executive director of the Ohio Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (OTDRA), now the Ohio Tire & Automotive Association, Gil Neal, former president of General Tire & Rubber Co., and Peter Veldman, co-founder of Tire Rack in Indiana.

I didn’t know any of them outside of business. However, our paths crossed often enough for me to admire and learn from them, not just because they were industry leaders but also from snippets that indicated how they truly conducted their lives.

I knew Bill Floyd the longest and remember the folksy way he and his late wife Joan ran the OTDRA. They were a tag-team, always together, working on association business while keeping the members’ best interests at heart. Bill was a gentle soul, knowledgeable about the industry and passionate about the OTDRA. You could see it in that special glint in his eyes as he talked of his life-long livelihood.

A Tire Business co-worker recalls Bill and Joan often walking hand-in-hand at association events. I remember his annual call at Christmas to invite me to the association’s holiday function, adding with excitement that Joan was bringing her famous fudge.

We had one other thing in common, too. He and my father served in the same U.S. Army infantry division during World War II.

Gil Neal also stood out. He was a nice man, easy to talk to, and from what I’ve been told, allowed those who worked for him to do their jobs without micromanaging.

As a cub reporter I remember him this way: Whenever I attended a General Tire dealer event, he always stood outside the doorway, shaking everyone’s hand as they entered the room, whether that was at a dealer meeting or hospitality suite function. He wasn’t inside talking with a select group or with company executives. He was front and center—making sure he made contact with as many dealer customers as possible.

The sincerity in which he did this impressed me. I am sure it resonated with dealers, as well.

As for Peter Veldman, I was lucky to have had the chance to spend time with him and his wife Wilma on a dealer cruise. We were matched at the same dinner table and it wasn’t long before we became friendly and started swapping stories.

But I got to see the true person during a stop on the Caribbean island of Dominica. After spending the morning in town, I decided to venture out and find a tire dealership to visit. As I was leaving the ship, Pete and Wilma were returning from an excursion and asked if they could tag along.

Before I knew it we were speeding away in a taxi to a dealership about five miles from the port. When we arrived workers were changing tires outside under palm trees. As I interviewed the manager, I watched out of the corner of my eye as Pete practically skipped through the dealership, talking to employees and checking out the equipment. His enthusiasm for learning and gathering information was infectious.

Even though I grieve the loss of these impressive individuals, I feel blessed for having had the chance to know them.

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Dave Zielasko is Tire Business Publisher/Editor. He can be reached at dzielasko@crain.com or 330-865-6131. This opinion column appeared in the March 31 print edition of Tire Business. Do you have a recollection about these three gentlemen? Email your comments to tirebusiness@crain.com.

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