It's wrong to assume today's young independent tire dealers aren't just as willing as previous generations to serve in elective office or take on other industry leadership roles.
So say two of the youngest board members of the Tire Industry Association (TIA): Brett Matschke, 32, of Richlonn's Tire & Service Center in Greendale, Wis., and 33-year-old Mike Berra ``Jr.,'' of Community Tire Retreading in St. Louis. They believe more young dealers would serve in such capacities if given the chance.
The fact that men and women under 40 typically are under-represented on industry bodies such as TIA's board of directors probably has more to do with other factors than dealer reluctance, Messrs. Matschke and Berra contend.
``There aren't a lot of people in my age bracket who own their own businesses or otherwise have the opportunity to serve the association at this level,'' Mr. Matschke said. ``Typically, they're in a stage where they're still moving up the ladder within their companies.''
Whether or not a young person becomes active in association and other volunteer service work also may depend on company or family precedent, Mr. Berra said. He, for example, is following the example set by his father Michael Berra ``Sr.,'' who from 1994 through 1996 served as president of the former American Retreaders Association (ARA). That Louisville, Ky.-based association later changed its name to the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA) and officially merged July 1 with the Tire Association of North America (TANA) to form TIA.
``If my father hadn't been active in ARA, I don't know how I ever would have gotten involved (in association work),'' Mr. Berra said. ``I guess it would have had to happen first at the state association level-perhaps by my taking part in a golf outing or attending a regional meeting or something. I don't know that young people don't want to serve. Maybe they just don't have enough information.''
Mr. Berra, who is vice president of the family-owned dealership founded by his grandfather, said young dealers won't find association work dull-especially these days when so many interesting things are going on and so many important issues need to be addressed. Not the least of these, he said, is the industry's response to some of the proposed mandates of the federal government's Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation Act.
Among other things, it calls for new tire standards, tire pressure monitors and other measures directly impacting everyone engaged in tire service, repairing and retreading.
Ross Kogel, who is executive vice president of TIA and also under age 40, noted that younger people are definitely in the minority-not only among the association's elective leadership but also in its membership as a whole. But that, he said, is because it's usually the senior-most executive within each of TIA's 5,000-plus member companies who is most active in association affairs.
He said Messrs. Matschke and Berra are unusual in their ability to balance successful business careers with the time and effort demanded by industry service work.
``Brett and Mike are prime examples of people who have sacrificed quite a bit of their personal time to work for the association,'' Mr. Kogel said. Both young men are widely respected throughout the industry, he added.
Mr. Matschke has been serving on TIA's Strategic Planning Committee, helping chart a course for the newly combined organization that resulted from the TANA-ITRA merger.
Mr. Berra, likewise, served two years on ITRA's Advisory Council prior to the merger and has been active in helping bring the two groups together. During the coming year, he will serve on TIA's technical and government affairs committee.
Serving on TIA's board of directors ``requires a lot of time,'' Mr. Kogel acknowledged. The board has 48 members, each elected for a staggered three-year term.
Although the board as a whole meets only twice annually, its members also serve on various committees that meet more frequently by means of telephone-based conference calls. One such committee, in fact, had met a total of four times in one week alone, Mr. Kogel told Tire Business.
Mr. Matschke, who has been working at the family's Wisconsin dealership since age 14, said he first became involved in association work at the state level. He twice served as president of the former Wisconsin Independent Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, which later merged with another automotive service group to become the Wisconsin Automotive Aftermarket Association.
He said Richlonn Tire was founded in 1964 by his father, Richard (``Rich'') Matschke, in partnership with Lonn Stone, (the latter contributing the ``lonn'' portion of the company's name).
The elder Mr. Matschke eventually bought out his partner's half of the business. He now serves as the company's chairman, leaving day-to-day operations in his son's hands. The dealership is an AAA-approved automotive service provider with four retail service locations in Greendale, Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine, Wis., totaling 40 service bays. Tirewise, the company offers Goodyear product lines, including Dunlop and Goodyear associate brands. It employs 48.
Asked if his parents encouraged him to work in the family's business, Mr. Matschke said his father ``never put a gun to my head or anything.'' He said his dad ``just made it known he wanted to be in business with me, and I always knew that I wanted to be involved somehow in the business.''
Unlike Mike Berra, however, Brett Matschke didn't have a mentor regarding deep association involvement. While Richlonn Tire has been a member of the state and national tire dealer associations for many years, Brett Matschke said his father has ``never been as active as I've been'' in association activities.
Around the offices of St. Louis-based Community Tire and elsewhere in the industry, young Michael Berra is known as Mike ``Jr.'' and his father as Mike ``Sr.''
In truth, however, the titles are mainly a convenience. The company's three generations of Michael Berras actually were given different middle names and initials.
The company was founded in 1935 by young Mike Jr.'s grandfather, Michael A. Berra, an inductee into both the tire industry and retreading and repairing halls of fame. The current Mike Sr. is Michael W. Berra. Mike Jr. is Michael C. Berra.
Today the company is under the joint direction of Mike Sr. and his brother, Phil Berra, with the former operating the retreading side of the business while the company's new-tire and wholesale operations are run by Phil, who also serves as chairman of the board at Hercules Tire & Rubber Co.
Community Tire's retreading operations are virtually 100-percent mold cure in nature, processing light truck, truck and giant OTR tires. The firm serves customers within a 600-mile radius of St. Louis, using five service trucks. It employs about 40.
The firm's new-tire sales division, Community Wholesale Tire, offers Bridgestone, Firestone, Michelin and Uniroyal and Hercules private label tire lines. It operates wholesale outlets in St. Louis and Kansas City and eight retail outlets in Missouri and Illinois.
Mike Jr. began working in the retreading business at age 8, sweeping floors and doing odd jobs. While in high school, he graduated to more complicated tasks such as repairing OTR tires, filling buzz outs and processing retreaded and repaired tires prior to delivery and billing.
Mike Berra Sr., whose own involvement in association work spans nearly two decades, remains an active member of TIA and sees his son's involvement as highly beneficial to the company. ``He's brought a lot of new ideas into the business,'' he said.
One of the most formidable challenges facing young dealers and their trade association is the wave of consolidations occurring in the tire industry. ``It's going to be increasingly tough for an association to maintain trade shows in light of fewer suppliers and fewer dealers and retreaders,'' he said.
The elder Mr. Berra said his own two decades of close involvement in association work often have brought him into contact with people and ideas beneficial to the company's business. ``I've gotten back more than I gave,'' he said, ``and I think that's true of most associations.''