CHICAGO-The Ahern brothers have been a fixture at Mitchell's Restaurant since the 1960s, meeting there every morning at 5:30 to eat breakfast. While they eat, they talk about the day's business at their company, another fixture in Chicago, William J. Cassidy Tire & Auto, which has been family-owned for more than four generations.
The company actually got its start around 1892, when William J. Cassidy opened a livery service in the Windy City, providing horses and carriages for undertakers to take mourners to and from the cemetery. Then in 1914, he decided to try his hand at a business still in its infancy-replacement tires.
So, with the help of his young nephew, Hugh Ahern, he founded Cassidy Tire and started selling hard rubber truck and automobile tires, said Jack Ahern, speaking on behalf of the four Ahern brothers working at the business.
He said Mr. Cassidy made the move to Goodyear pneumatic tires in the early 1920s, and by 1930, young Hugh Ahern was running the company.
His six sons, Bill, Frank, Hugh Jr., Jack, Jim and Tom, worked at the store every day after school and during holidays.
``(I've) worked all my life here,'' Jack Ahern said. ``We never knew what a day off meant. . . . We kid about it a lot now. Every one of us was in the same boat. I think sometimes it was a help to my mother, too. She got six boys out of the house.''
The store saw the Great Depression and World War II and managed to survive both.
During the war, tires were rationed by the U.S. government and Mr. Ahern recalled just how scarce they were: ``You could sell all you could get your hands on-and at any price. People had lots of money, but no tires.''
After the war, one by one, the boys joined their father full time at Cassidy Tire. They opened a second location in Oak Park, Ill., in 1960, he said.
The company was doing well, and Hugh Ahern Sr. was satisfied that he had prepared his sons to run the family business. So he stepped aside around 1965-after running Cassidy Tire for some 35 years-and let the boys take over.
The most important lesson their father taught them about running the business, Mr. Ahern said, was to get along with each other.
In 1968, at the age of 72, Hugh Ahern Sr. died.
``When my father passed away in '68, (my mother) never thought that the business should pass away,'' Mr. Ahern said.
With that in mind, the Ahern brothers moved Cassidy Tire's headquarters in 1970, after 56 years in the same store, to its current location at 344 North Canal St. The five-story warehouse is about three miles from the original store that Mr. Cassidy opened in 1914, according to Mr. Ahern.
Cassidy Tire now has 12 locations throughout Illinois, including the warehouse, employs more than 100 people and sells Uniroyal, Toyo, Starfire and Michelin brand tires, he said. But its name remains the same.
``We said, `What the heck-Cassidy Tire is too well-known a name in Chicago,'*'' he said.
Four of the six Ahern brothers still run the business-Frank, Jack, Jim and Tom. Hugh Jr. died in March 1984 and Bill retired in April that year, Mr. Ahern said.
The key to staying open all these years, he said, has been their willingness to change.
``(T)hese people put five- or six-year plans together, which is good. But somewhere down the line, they have to be updated and changed.''
By discussing business every day over breakfast and meeting monthly ``with all of our people,'' he said, the Aherns work out the small problems that can ruin an entire business plan over time.
Any firm that doesn't alter a strategy that isn't working will soon be out of business, Mr. Ahern pointed out. ``You have to be flexible,'' he said.
Managers must continually be educated, he said, so they can better serve the customers' needs.
``I think there's a great future in the tire business. It just knocks my socks off to hear other owners bad-mouth the tire business.''
Right now, the Aherns are concentrating on the future of their own tire business. Someday, their children-Sarah, Paul, Ricky, Tom and Bryan, who are working for the company now-will run the family business just as the brothers have done for 30 years,
``Everything will be equal. That's the key,'' Mr. Ahern said. ``Nobody gets more or less than the other one. If somebody doesn't perform, then it's up to the others to get on their case.
``But majority rules. There's a time when that can be a little bit hectic,'' he said.
And through it all, Mr. Ahern said he and his brothers have enjoyed running Cassidy Tire.
``We love the management challenge,'' he said. ``The biggest thing to impart to our children is that it can be a heck of a lot of fun. With all the ups and downs, we make sure that at the end of everything we're all laughing.''