|Subject: Bruce Halle, founder of Discount Tire
He was 87
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Date Posted: Thursday, January 04, 02:27:00pm
Bruce T. Halle, the founder of Discount Tire, Arizona's wealthiest resident and a prominent philanthropist, died Thursday at age 87, according to a spokesman for Eastern Michigan University, his alma mater.
Halle was listed as Arizona's wealthiest individual for the past eight years by Forbes, with a net-worth tally of $5.2 billion as of January 2018.
He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1930, and started his first store 30 years later in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
He was a 1956 graduate of Eastern Michigan University. Halle earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the university and founded the company in Ann Arbor with six tires. He previously served in the Korean War in the Marine Corps.
Discount Tire today claims to be the largest independent tire dealer in North America, with more than 900 locations in 30 states and 18,000 employees.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Bruce Halle," said James Smith, president of Eastern Michigan University, in a statement. "Bruce touched many, many lives in the business world, and through his support of the University and its students, continues to touch many lives on our campus today." Today, a library at Eastern Michigan bears Halle's name.
Halle was described as an unassuming, down-to-earth, self-made billionaire who built a business empire on the philosophy of taking care of people and giving them a good deal.
But Halle eschewed the limelight and preferred to think of himself as an ordinary man who worked hard and trusted the people around him to do the right thing. His business model was simple: Find good people, trust they will make the right decisions and let them do a great job.
A focus on philanthropy
While Halle had one of the great American business success stories, most of the publicity he received in recent years came from his philanthropic endeavors. Even in helping others, he was more comfortable working behind the scenes.
The Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation has supported non-profits focused on art, children and other areas. Grant recipients include the Arizona Community Foundation, Children First Leadership Academy of Phoenix, Ballet Arizona, the Art Institute of Chicago and various educational institutions.
Halle collected Latin American art and owned the world's largest collection of vintage tire posters, many of which are on display at the company's Scottsdale headquarters.
Halle said he had no business plan when he opened his first tire store in Ann Arbor. In a book called “Six Tires, No Plan,” author Michael Rosenbaum said Halle started the business as a way to support his wife and three young children.
After failing to get a couple of ventures off the ground, including a tire- and automobile-accessory business, Halle set up shop in a rented plumbing-supply building. It took three days before he got his first customer and a week before he sold a tire.
According to company history, Halle chose the name Discount Tire because it implied customers could get a deal on a tire. He had six tires (four of which were retreads) and a portable air tank, which he had to fill at a local gas station.
Halle was the tire technician, accountant, store computer, sign painter and cleaning crew. Halle’s business model of customer services and low prices started as a way to beat competing tire dealers such as Firestone, General and Goodyear.
Halle said competitors tried to steer customers away from his business by spreading rumors that he sold second-rate retreads.
“If they would have kept their mouths shut and not talked about it, I probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground,” he told Tire Business, an industry journal, in a 2008 interview. “But they were sending people up to me and people would come in the store and I would take good care of them, give them a good deal and they would tell other people. And that's kind of how we grew.”
Commitment to customer service
Halle offered free services that his competitors charged for doing, such as mounting and removal of snow tires, figuring that once he had customers in the shop, he would have a chance to sell them new tires. He also offered what has become Discount Tire’s signature service: free flat repair.
In 2013, Halle still served as chairman of the company’s board of directors. He acknowledged in company literature that the company could generate significant revenue if it charged for flat repair. But he said the service generates a huge amount of goodwill. And that translates to customer loyalty.
In 1964, four years after opening his first store, Halle opened his second. By 1970, he had seven stores in Michigan. That year, he also opened his first Arizona store on East Thomas Road.
The company, which does business in some states as America’s Tire, moved its headquarters to Scottsdale in 1987.
“You do the things that anybody did when they started a business. You sweep the floors. You wash the windows. You clean the bathrooms. You talk to all the customers. You create some advertising programs. You pay the rent and try and make it work and little by little, all the pieces kind of come together,” Halle said in “Six Tires, No Plan.”
Halle said the key to successfully opening new stores was finding good people and trusting them.
“Our store managers and employees are empowered to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer,” Discount Tire CEO Tom Englert said in a 2011 interview with The Republic. “There is a great autonomy in our stores that helps them meet the individual needs of the customers in their particular areas.”
In 2010, the Arizona Board of Regents honored Bruce and Diane Halle with the Regents' Award for Outstanding Service to Higher Education.
A $1 million grant from the Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation established the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
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