WASHINGTON — I was one of the first staff members of Tire Business, starting with its inaugural issue dated April 11, 1983.
My front-page story for that first issue bore the headline, "Chinese may export tires to U.S. by next year." (I hasten to add that scientists had learned how to split the atom by that time, and the talkies were well-established.)
I started with Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Tire Business in 1977, as a reporter for Rubber & Plastics News (RPN). My reason for coming to Crain was simple: preparing to graduate from Ohio University, I needed a job, and the late Ernie Zielasko — founding editor-publisher of RPN, and soon to serve the same role with Tire Business — offered me one.
I worked at Crain in Akron for three years, until I transferred to Washington in 1980 as sole Washington reporter for RPN and one of three for Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication that covers the automotive industry.
Those were the days when Ralph Nader was best known as an auto safety crusader, not a third-party presidential candidate, and tire and auto makers were still having pitched battles with consumerists and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
When I started in Washington, Goodyear was fighting staunchly against implementation of the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System. Thirty years later, UTQGS is universally accepted—if also universally ignored—and the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) is championing the establishment of a federal tire fuel efficiency labeling standard. (Three years after NHTSA issued a final tire fuel efficiency final rule, the industry is still waiting for its labeling and consumer information provisions. The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
When Tire Business was founded, my duties for Automotive News were at an end; I was now full-time Washington reporter for RPN and Tire Business. Before Tire Business, I covered some dealer-related stories for RPN, but the emphasis was on manufacturing. Now, I was reporting on manufacturers and dealers equally, seeing both sides close-up.
It was a quick and thorough lesson, among other things, on the fact that the interests of tire manufacturers and tire retailers often diverge. But, over the years, there also have been lessons on cooperation and concerted effort between the two groups.
Early last year, for instance, the quick action of the RMA, the Tire Industry Association and the Chesapeake Automotive Business Association—in opposition to a Maryland tire aging bill — headed off what would have been disastrous for all of them. It was a good case in point for intra-organizational cooperation.
In 30 years of working for TB, I've seen a lot of things. A few were straight out of Kafka, such as during the congressional hearings in the aftermath of the Ford-Firestone recalls in 2000. It was a pathetic and scary sight to see Masatoshi Ono, president and CEO of the former Bridgestone/Firestone (now Bridgestone Americas), struggling to comprehend and answer the questions of an angry Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
But there have also been fun times — a lot of them. (There are still several people who try to blackmail me with pictures of my snowmobiling in Lapland while on a Nokian Tyre trip.)
Above all, there have been 30 good years covering some of the friendliest, smartest and most interesting people I've ever met. I have found that tire dealers, as a group, care deeply about their customers, and are impassioned about their businesses and the products they sell. That sort of passion always makes for interesting stories.