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Mission accomplished

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WASHINGTON—When he became Tire Industry Association (TIA) president last year, Larry Brandt said he had three goals:

c Continue the growth of TIA's education and training programs—as he said at the time, “training, training, and more training”;

c Emphasize TIA's government affairs functions, including the establishment of closer ties with the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA); and

c Continue the process of reorganizing and rejuvenating the organization begun by his predecessor, Mike Berra Jr.

In all three, Mr. Brandt said, he feels he has succeeded.

“Mike and myself—we wanted continuity in the reorganization of TIA,” he said. “Previous presidents have come in with their own agendas, and it would be chaos in the TIA office. Mike and I wanted to get TIA on a steady course.”

Messrs. Brandt and Berra eliminated a lot of TIA programs that members didn't want, Mr. Brandt said.

“We were interested in keeping things simple and keeping the staff focused,” he told Tire Business. “This was very important—I stated that at last year's Global Tire Expo.”

Mr. Brandt, who served as the head of a group of Tires Plus franchisees immediately before his tenure as TIA president, tipped his hat to Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, and his staff for doing a superb job of running the organization. He also praised incoming TIA President Randall Groh, vice president of marketing for Appleton, Wis.-based U.S. Auto Force.

“I've known Randy Groh for years,” he said. “I asked him to continue what Mike and I started, and he is totally in agreement with us.”

Although 2012 has a few months to go yet, it is set to be the most successful year in the history of TIA education and training programs, according to Mr. Brandt.

“We are on pace to break last year's figures, and last year we broke a record,” he said.

The TIA Online University, launched in May, has been extremely successful, Mr. Brandt said. So has the Spanish-language version of the TIA Commercial Tire Service training program, which was also released this year.

The Spanish-language version of the Earthmover Tire Service training program will probably become available in November, he said.

“Training and government affairs are what TIA is all about this year,” he said.

The most important aspect of government affairs to Mr. Brandt is for TIA to develop a working relationship with the RMA.

“I see that as being really critical to the tire industry,” he said. “In the past, certain TIA presidents treated the RMA as the enemy. But I've always believed they are our partners.”

RMA President Charles Cannon came to TIA's OTR meeting in California this past February for his first official meeting with TIA officials, and Mr. Brandt said he “got to know him personally. We went to dinner together, and later we met with members of TIA's Executive Committee.”

At the time of this interview, Mr. Brandt had scheduled another meeting—this one with the RMA Board of Directors, with Messrs. Littlefield, Groh and Brandt in attendance.

“We really need each other's opinions,” Mr. Brandt said. “We agree on 90 percent of the issues, but on those we don't, we have to have an ongoing dialogue.”

The issue of tire repair is the biggest case in point, according to Mr. Brandt.

The original language in the RMA model bill, which was introduced earlier this year in the New York state legislature, would have imposed a terrible burden on TIA members, he said.

Most TIA members were thunderstruck when the TIA Board of Directors devised its own model bill, but the majority came around when that course of action was explained to them, Mr. Brandt said.

“I've met with RMA officials for three years, and this issue wouldn't go away,” he said. “We're still of the opinion that we would rather have education than legislation to resolve the tire repair issue, but my feeling was that we had to have (legislative) language we could live with.”

The RMA supports the TIA tire repair bill, and TIA will go ahead with plans to have its bill introduced in the Maryland legislature, according to Mr. Brandt. The legislation, as he sees it, will benefit both tire makers and tire dealers, with consumers as the ultimate beneficiaries.

“Most people do tire repairs right, but there is a group that doesn't do them right,” he said. “It will be nice for dealers to tell people, 'I can't fix that flat—it's against the law.' Otherwise some customers will think you're just trying to sell them a new tire.”

As for Mr. Brandt's future upon leaving TIA, he said he plans to concentrate on the wholesale side of the tire business.

That will return him somewhat full-circle to some of his past endeavors. He started full time in the tire industry in 1979 as a wholesale tire and anti-freeze broker.

According to a Tire Business story on Mr. Brandt when he took over the reins of TIA, he merged his company with Team Tires Plus Ltd. in 1985 to become that organization's third-largest shareholder and vice president of wholesale operations.

In the 15 years he helped manage the chain, he rose to the presidency of Tires Plus in 1995 and remained in that post until Clearwater, Fla.-based Morgan Tire & Auto Inc. purchased the business in August 2000. Mr. Brandt left Tires Plus and started MSB Tires L.L.C. in 2001 with two other former Tires Plus executives. He was CEO of MSB—which operated seven Tires Plus licensees in Minnesota and Iowa—until October 2010, when TBC Corp. acquired the business.

During that period Mr. Brandt also served as Tire Alliance Groupe (TAG) chairman from 1998 to 2000. Eventually, he began Brandt Marketing, a consulting firm that helps tire dealers increase sales and profits and design exit strategies.

His own exit strategy from TIA will, he noted, “allow me to spend my summers in Minnesota and my winters in Florida. Everything is done by Internet and phone nowadays.”



To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com; 202-662-7211.
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