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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interview With Business Author Michael Rosenbaum

Your upcoming book (March 1), Six Tires, No Plan, tells the amazing story of how one man – Bruce Halle -- came from nothing to owning and running the nation’s largest tire dealership, Discount Tires. How did he do it? Simply stated, he’s the anti-Trump. As described in the book, Halle has never been quite comfortable shouting “look at me” to anyone who will pay attention. He likes one-on-one relationships with people, but he has never had an interest in a bigger stage. So he focused on his business, his employees and his family instead of self-promotion. His disciplined humility leads him to avoid preaching or promoting himself, which has been a source of business success and anonymity at the same time.

2.      What inspired you to share his story in Six Tires, No Plan? There’s something intriguing about a guy who builds a billion-dollar empire, engenders intense loyalty among his workers, and yet remains absolutely unknown outside his small sphere. As I dug into his history and the evolution of his philosophy, I was similarly intrigued by the simplicity of his approach. The fundamental truths that generated his success are no secret. We all know them, but we often pay only lip service to them. Halle, though has applied these simple truths in a consistent and humble way to achieve his success. In the end, you realize that anyone could be Halle and do what he did. So the question for all of us is, why not?

3.      As a businessman you served as the president of the nation’s largest investor relations agency.  From that perspective, tell us what you admire most about how Bruce built up and runs his company? I’ve had the opportunity to advise C-suite executives at more than 150 large companies, including the founder/CEOs of dozens of firms. Less than a handful of these founders cultivated either the productive culture or the long-term success that Halle achieved—and I can’t think of any who achieved both. Ultimately, all business is about people. Whatever the product, whatever the price, relationships and trust among people drive success—or failure. Bruce Halle has achieved a nearly impossible level of success by engaging, inspiring, rewarding and retaining good people. It’s a reminder to managers everywhere that it’s important to put away the spreadsheets and performance metrics and figure out how to motivate and inspire the people behind the numbers.

4.      Bruce talks a lot about “paying forward.”  Tell us what that means. When you receive a gift, you have two obligations. One is gratitude to the person who provided the gift. Second, and possibly more important, is the need to mirror the giver’s act by providing a benefit to someone else. There are givers and takers in the world. Halle wants employees who are givers, who recognize their own good fortune and are willing to share it. Those people are more likely than the norm to pay forward to customers and build strong relationships in the stores, or pay forward to other employees and increase the loyalty within a team. This emphasis flows in large part from Halle’s faith, but the real world business impact is measurable.

5.      What advice would Bruce give to today’s aspiring entrepreneur? Bruce doesn’t give a lot of advice, but if you take the lessons of his life described in the book, it would pretty much boil down to this: Be prepared to work hard, probably over a long period, to build momentum. Create a team of people that will take care of each other and work together to take care of the customer. Do whatever you can to turn a transaction into a relationship. Worry about the customer first and the spreadsheet last. And don’t forget to have fun.

6.      What lessons can we take from how Bruce Halle lives his life and runs his company? It’s important to walk the walk. Many corporate leaders talk about the importance of people, including employees, but fail to back up their words with action. Halle gets more from his people, I believe, because he makes a clear and visible effort to keep the faith with them. If you hire the right people, they will respond to this kind of support, so it’s critical for Halle to staff his company with people who share his pay-forward mindset. It’s the same as the rest of life: surround yourself with the right people and success will follow.

7.      What was it like spending time with a billionaire whom most people have never heard of? In Halle’s world, which is focused primarily on the company, he is absolutely famous. Outside that small sphere, he has never made an effort to raise his profile. So when you travel with him in his world, it’s like being on a rock tour. Everyone knows who he is and what he has achieved. So it’s definitely cool to travel on a private jet, but when you land and go to the tire stores, there’s no difference between a billionaire and any other business owner.

8.      What was the writing process like for this book? It took me back to my days as a reporter and editor, with all the interviews and research that carry you into a story. As with all these projects, the toughest part is figuring out what the real story is. What’s the angle? For me, the most intriguing part of Halle’s life is the way in which he has created a team of true believers who want to replicate his model in both business and life. That makes it more than a biography of one person or one company. In a way, Halle’s story is being cloned by hundreds or thousands of his employees, which is a fascinating process.

9.      What is the most important lesson from this book? We have a complicated relationship with money. We all want to get more of it, but we don’t necessarily trust the people who have done so already. People often look a billionaire as somehow different from the rest of us and think their experiences don’t apply to us. What I want people to understand is that this is a normal guy who achieved something extraordinary, not a demi-god sent down from Mt. Olympus. So the most important lesson of the book is that it is possible to achieve great success without a great start in life. When you read this book, you realize that anyone could be Bruce Halle, even you. 

 Michael is my client at the PR firm that I work for. If you want to see more information, please consult http://www.sixtiresnoplan.com/

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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