FINDLAY, Ohio—It didn't take long for Thomas Dattilo to learn what everyone else in the tire industry already knew: Tire pricing makes no sense. Joining Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. a year ago from automotive components supplier Dana Corp., Mr. Dattilo quickly found tires to be "an incredible bargain."
With all the techology and cost that goes into building them, "it doesn't make sense how tires are priced," he said.
Nor has Cooper's No. 2 executive received an adequate explanation of why this is the case. "There is no real answer to the question," he said.
When it comes to the tire industry, Mr. Dattilo has become a quick study during his first year at the tire and engineered products company.
Since joining Cooper as president and COO on Jan. 1, 1999, he's visited more than 100 dealers at their places of business.
"It's a good thing to do," he said. "I love meeting with our customers, with potential customers, and talking about the organization."
What he's found is that Cooper's customers are "really good people" and a "joy to do business with."
Not that they aren't tough and demanding, he said. "But they are tough and demanding in a way that you can still have a proper relationship."
He's also been struck by "how much our customers like doing business with us because of the customer service Cooper Tire has a history of providing."
Mr. Dattilo, 48, had no interest in leaving Dana, where he had worked his entire career and hoped one day to become chairman, until he was approached by Cooper's top man, Patrick Rooney, about joining the company.
At first, he didn't even want to meet the Cooper chairman but was encouraged by a friend to do so. He found Mr. Rooney to be "a very persuasive guy."
"It hit me immediately that it was just the right type of organization that I would even consider—a company with a business approach that was consistent with my approach to business, that was straightforward and non-pretentious. You say what you do, do what you say and walk the walk."
While Mr. Dattilo had no tire industry knowledge, he did know the engineered products business and had extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions.
A graduate of Ohio State University, with a law degree from the University of Toledo and training from Harvard University's Advanced Management Program, Mr. Dattilo joined Dana in the late 1970s as a lawyer. His first responsibilities there were in acquisitions.
After working on 10 to 12 deals in a three- to four-year period, he quickly realized he'd rather be a businessman than a lawyer.
So at age 31, the first-generation American, who speaks his parents' native Italian fluently, talked his way into becoming vice president and general manager of Dana's financial services operation, his first chance at running a division.
His next step took him to Dana's Precision Controls division, where as general manager he gained operational experience from the unit's two plants and learned about the original equipment and replacement markets.
He then moved to Canada as president and a board member of Dana Canada, an independent public company he described as a mini-Dana. One of the things he learned there was "don't disappoint your shareholders. They hate that," he said.
He next served as president of Dana's North American engine seals operations before returning to Dana's Toledo, Ohio, headquarters, where he headed the $1 billion worldwide sealing group, the position he held when Mr. Rooney came calling.