AKRON (Nov. 15, 2001)—“It should have happened long ago.”
That's the reaction of present and former top administrative staffers to the planned merger next year of the Tire Association of North America (TANA) and the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA).
Members of this unique group—ITRA's George R. Edwards, Edward J. Wagner and current executive director Marvin Bozarth, as well as Phil Friedlander, longtime top staffer for the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (now called TANA), and TANA's current executive vice president, Ross Kogel—all see the merger as benefiting not only the associations themselves but the industry at large.
Uniting the two dealer-oriented groups, association staffers told Tire Business, could have taken place—and should have—long before now. But “personalities” got in the way.
Even George Edwards, co-founder and managing director from 1957-68 of the American Retreaders Association (now ITRA), said he sees no reason why the two groups shouldn't be combined. These organizations comprise “a whole new generation” of tire dealers and retreaders and old rivalries and animosities between them are all but forgotten, he said.
Mr. Edwards, who'll be 81 next March, said he was surprised to learn of the proposed merger. But after giving the matter some thought, he said he concluded “it was something that really should have happened long ago.”
“I don't see any reason why the associations can't get together now,” he said. “Why not put them and their finances together? With all the problems these associations are going to face in the next few years, it seems like perfect timing.”
Ironically, it was Mr. Edwards himself who inadvertently was responsible some 44 years ago for splitting North America's retreaders and independent tire dealers into two separate national organizations. The incident that triggered the separation was the NTDRA's barring of Mr. Edwards, the former editor of the Tire Retreading & Repair Journal, from its 1957 Cincinnati convention and trade show.
Earlier, Mr. Edwards and NTDRA's executive vice president, W.W. “Bill” Marsh, had quarreled over who was responsible for persuading the U.S. Army not to undertake its own retreading operations. Mr. Marsh, angered that the publication refused to give the NTDRA sole credit, proclaimed its editor persona non grata at the event and prevented him from entering the Cincinnati show. That infuriated Mr. Edwards' friend and companion at the event, E.L. “Red” Davis, president of the Central States Retreaders Association and the principal retread supplier to the Army's Fort Knox, Ky., Armored Center.
As a result of the NTDRA's rebuff, Messrs. Davis and Edwards organized their own trade show the following year—the first Louisville Retreaders Conference, now called the World ITRA Expo. The original show's sponsor, the Central States Retreaders group, ultimately broadened its membership to become the American Retreaders Association (ARA)— now known as ITRA.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Marsh and his stalwarts at the NTDRA vigorously opposed opening of the Louisville, Ky., show and the development of a rival national dealer group. This resulted in hard feelings between the groups that many observers still consider the biggest obstacle to merging them.
Mr. Davis died in 1973, Mr. Marsh in 1988.
Asked how ITRA's co-founder might have regarded the association's merging with TANA, Mr. Edwards said “Red” probably wouldn't approve—“he was pretty bullheaded. When he did something he did it for good.
“Red didn't have a lot of education, but he had a basic business sense that was incredible. He taught me so much, and I admired him like a father.”
Ed Wagner, ARA managing director from 1968-88, said efforts to unite the two groups date back at least to Mr. Marsh's retirement in 1977. Nothing ever came of them, he said, because “the NTDRA board thought their organization was strong and we thought our group was equally strong.” He said the basic response of both groups' memberships to such a proposal was the same: “We don't need them!”
Mr. Wagner, at 77, is still going strong—doing tire failure analysis, testifying as an expert witness in tire-oriented product liability trials and volunteering at least one day a week at St. Anthony's soup kitchen in Louisville.
He said he thinks both groups have been feeling a pinch financially. “They're trying to put two organizations together in order to make a stronger one,” he said. “Fundamentally, I think it's got all the makings of a good, strong association. There should have been just one association long ago,”
Phil Friedlander, former executive vice president of the NTDRA (now TANA) from 1978-96, said the two associations should have combined at least five years ago when he retired.
“I think they ought to include the Rubber Manufacturers Association in the same (merger) package,” he said. “This industry really could use one industrywide association. We (NTDRA) tried to do that years ago, but tire companies weren't interested in those days.”
Such an idea is not out of the question, Mr. Friedlander believes, noting that resources are limited throughout the tire industry, plus both TANA and ITRA now accept tire manufacturers as well as dealers as members. He added that the widespread distrust that once existed between tire dealers and their manufacturers and suppliers no longer looms as an obstacle to such a union.
Mr. Friedlander said he doesn't know all the details of the proposed merger, “but if they (the directors of the two groups) think it's going to be useful, then why not (merge)? I can't see anything negative about it. And I would expect the membership of both groups will support that.”
Recently becoming a grandfather at age 72, Mr. Friedlander maintains a small office near his home in Vienna, Va. He serves on the community's Business Liaison Committee and remains a lifetime member of the American Society for Association Executives.
Marvin Bozarth, ITRA's current executive director, said combining the two groups should benefit the entire industry. “Times change, issues change, business changes—and associations have to change in order to meet those needs,” he said. “I think this gives (the associations) additional flexibility to provide needed services with less concern about their cost. Hopefully, more programs can be developed to benefit members.”
ITRA's top administrator said he isn't sure whether he'll carry through on previously expressed plans to retire at year's end. “I'm still negotiating with the association as to whether or not to stay on,” he said. “But I'm definitely going to be doing consulting work and other things on the outside.”
Mr. Bozarth, who'll be 65 in December, said he'll continue doing such things as offering expert testimony in product liability cases, evaluating new equipment for manufacturers, troubleshooting retreading plants and conducting tire surveys for commercial fleets. He's also had two or three interesting job offers as well. “I've got to make a lot of decisions in the next few weeks,” Mr. Bozarth said.
Ross Kogel, TANA's current executive vice president and the man who'll direct the administrative staff of the combined trade associations following the merger, said organizing all the industry's national and international non-profit efforts into one cohesive organization simply makes good sense. The mission of both associations, he said, is fundamentally the same—namely, to serve the public interest and help members improve the profitability of their businesses.
“If we can offer a larger menu of services between the two organizations, members are going to get more for their dollar,” he said. “I think everybody involved agrees that we can better serve that purpose if we combine the organizations into one.”
Asked about whether the RMA should also be included in the planned merger, as suggested by Mr. Friedlander, Mr. Kogel replied that officials of both groups already have enough to do working on the merger at hand. “One step at a time,” he said, barely able to conceal a chuckle. “Right now, we are completely and totally focused on making the best organization we can out of ITRA and TANA—and certainly that will keep us busy for the relative near future.”