In the trenches
In Washington, Mr. Littlefield learned the importance of building strong relationships and paying attention to details. Because around 80% of bills introduced never get voted on, it takes a lot of work and some luck to get a bill passed.
"You've got to be down there in the trenches, they've got to know who you are, and you've got to do your research on someone," he said.
For example, he said, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., was extremely interested in issues impacting farmers, so it was beneficial to tie the conversation into agriculture.
One day, Mr. Littlefield went in to talk to Mr. Dole's aide about a retread bill. Then, Mr. Dole walked into the office.
"He said, 'Come on in and talk to me,' so I went in and talked to him and tied in about farmers using retreads and stuff. He was chairman on the Senate finance committee at the time, and he got the bill through for us," Mr. Littlefield said.
Late at night in 1984, senators took a break while discussing tire regulations in the highway bill. Most of the lobbyists had gone home, Mr. Littlefield said, but he still was there. Mr. Dole saw him and asked, "Hey, don't you guys have a position on these tire taxes?"
He was brought into a meeting room to discuss it.
"That's when the excise tax on truck tires went up significantly, and that's when the passenger excise tax was eliminated," Mr. Littlefield said. "Passenger retreading really almost died after that, and truck tire retreading just expanded tremendously.
"New tire taxes were so high that the differential between a retread and a new truck tire were great enough that the 1,000 retreaders that were left at the time used more rubber than they did when we had 10,000 retreaders and did all of those passenger retreads."
Put me in coach
Mr. Littlefield's career in the tire industry began in 1979 as director of government affairs at the NTDRA. He also did work for the American Retreaders' Association (ARA) as a part-time director of government affairs and became executive director of the Washington/Maryland Service Station and Automotive Repair Association. In 1994, he became executive vice president of the Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades.
TIA was created in 2002 by the merger of the Tire Association of North America (successor of the NTDRA) and the International Tire & Rubber Association (successor of the ARA). Mr. Littlefield was named TIA's executive vice president in January 2003.
"When the merger took place, and I was selected, I was like, 'Put me in coach, I'm ready to play,'" he said.
"There was no advertisement, no big thing. It was just handled pretty quickly and non-controversially, and I was really lucky. I was just in the right place at the right time."
He was advised to figure out how to quash anger over the 1984 tire excise tax, because it had been a "sore subject for everyone." He said members of TIA got together with stakeholders and came up with a plan that instead of figuring the tax by weight, it would be done by load capacity.
"And everyone was bought in, the retreaders and the manufacturers, and that's an example of what happens when an industry comes together, because we got that through Congress very quickly," he said.
"That was a very exciting thing to be able to pull that together and have it go full circle in 18 years."
With TIA, he helped settle early internal tensions, stabilize the budget, create a more cohesive overall strategy and grow membership more than sixfold.
"We didn't let the training get away with the membership. … We tried to make programs you had to be a member to utilize, workers comp program, garage keepers liability program, etc."
The organization has trained 200,000 technicians since the program began in the late 1990s, he said.
"In the tire industry, independents are independent. Several of them will sell several brands, and I think that brings our industry closer. I think there is more respect back and forth because of that relationship. The manufacturers recognize the need for training and to support training, greatly."
Mr. Littlefield said he thinks membership will continue to grow as TIA attracts larger retailers, but the organization's focus always will be "one-on-one with small retailers."
"The combination is going to bring in a lot of members and gives us a lot of clout," Mr. Littlefield said. "When you can break it down by congressional district and you can go into a congressman's office — we have people in all 435 districts now — that makes a difference."
In modern politics, frustration has grown as PACs and super PACs have created a "pay to play" scenario, he said.
"A group like TIA overcomes that because the members are so believable — honest, small businessmen who work hard are very believable.
"When I testify, I never testify alone. I'm not the expert in the industry, the dealers are. My expertise is to understand the system and to input their expertise at the right time."
He said because of the competitive nature of Washington politics, if your group doesn't speak up, "You'll probably get hit, because it's just the easiest thing to do."
He said the exhilaration for him has always been passing the bill with the dealers.
"We're working toward more unity in the (tire) industry and better relations with people, and I think the industry is hopefully going to continue to be profitable on all levels and it's just going to keep getting better."
In retirement, Mr. Littlefield said he's going to "enjoy life" and his family. He hopes to remain involved with TIA in some capacity on the political side. He's going to continue teaching at Catholic University, and he may even write another book.
"It will be hard to step away, because I care so much about the organization and about the people in it," he said. "You work really hard to make it better and build it up and give (members) what they deserve and expect.
"Whenever you invest in anything, I think it is hard to walk away from it."