RESTON, Va. (Aug. 26, 2002)—Ross W. Kogel was not destined to become arguably one of the most visible men in the tire industry. He wasn't even destined, believe it or not, to be in the industry at all.
Mr. Kogel had other ideas and his father Ross T. Kogel, who happens to be president of Troy, Mich.-based Tire Wholesalers Inc., had no problem with that whatsoever.
“We looked at investing in our kids' education and letting them decide what to do,” the senior Mr. Kogel said.
His son pictured a career in Washington, perhaps as a legislative assistant. He sought a career where, at an early age, he could make an impact that would affect the masses. He wanted clout. He loved the idea of peddling influence in a positive way.
Outside of the legislative assistant part, he got exactly that.
After earning a master's degree from Wayne State University in 1997, Mr. Kogel went to Washington. Looking for a job on Capitol Hill, he wound up capitalizing on his family background and landing a position with the then-National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
That led him to his current post as executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA).
“I got a significantly better offer from the NTDRA,” Mr. Kogel said. “The association industry is its own niche as well, and it's been a lot of fun. I knew a little bit about (the tire business) from kicking tires around the warehouse. I'm sure it did (open the door).”
Mr. Kogel said he spent an “average” amount of time around his father's business, even working there for a spell. He also did the usual “growing up” jobs, such as working in a deli, a grocery store and other odd jobs.
At no point did a career in the tire business seem imminent, if it crossed his mind at all. Despite his father's presence in the industry, Ross Jr. said he had little interest in the business, and the two seldom if ever talked about it.
Now here he is barely 10 years out of high school, a veritable baby at 30, and the younger Kogel is, at the very least, a major influence peddler in a billion-dollar industry that affects nearly every man, woman and child in the free world.
It's ironic, to say the least.
“I think it absolutely is,” Ross Sr. said. “It's a hoot. Ironic is a good (word for it), and he seems to love what he's doing.”
Married to Katherine for 2½ years and father to yet another Ross, Mr. Kogel praised his dad—whose other children are a school teacher and an attorney—for not trying to steer him toward the industry he wound up in by accident.
“My dad is absolutely one of my best friends in the world,” Ross Jr. said. “He is as proud of me as I am of him.”
Ross Jr., apparently along with the rest of the industry, scoffs at any notion that his feet may still be just a little small to fill such big shoes.
“All that matters is performance,” Mr. Kogel said. “I could be 2 years old with pink polka dots and blue stripes, but if I worked absolutely as hard as I could and pursued goals vigorously, that's all that matters. If anything, it's helped. It's a time in my career where I have a lot of energy.”
TIA President Steve Disney concurs, to say the least. Mr. Disney sees Mr. Kogel's drive, determination and habit of getting things done as his greatest asset.
“I think he's judged on his output, what he does, not who he is,” Mr. Disney said. “Ross delivers a very high level of proficiency and people respect that.… I can't speak outside of the industry, but inside the association we knew Ross. He had served on the staff. We knew Ross and what he was capable of doing.
“He didn't inherit the position. He earned it.”
Mr. Kogel's results speak for themselves. In 2000, the then-Tire Association of North America saw a 27-percent gain in net assets and turned a $187,000 profit. Last year net assets increased 84 percent. In 2002 the association has raised nearly $1 million for a foundation that will help educate people in the tire industry.
Now completing his fifth year in the industry, Mr. Kogel lists as his primary goal simply improving the industry's overall image in the eyes of consumers. He believes recent tire recalls have tainted the industry—but not beyond repair. He believes improving that image can't happen until the public understands and appreciates the value of today's tires.
“The difference between what they think of tire industry products and the actual value of tire industry products is something we're going to have to work on,” he said. “It's going to take a cohesive effort that everyone in the industry buys into. The tire is the only thing separating the car from the road. It's the No. 1 safety thing on a car. It's not going to happen over night.”
Operating out of Reston, Va., a stone's throw from the nation's capital, Mr. Kogel is definitely somewhat of a politico. He certainly knows the right things to say and is quick to deflect credit away from himself. He attributes much of the success he's had with NTDRA, TANA and TIA to those around him, particularly the legions of volunteers.
“I have a job in which, if people who have high levels of expertise didn't volunteer their time, it wouldn't have a chance to work,” he said. “Who wouldn't want a job like this?”