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INSIDE HAWAII INC.
» The general manager of Lex Brodie's Tire Co., Williams has created the "Lex Brodie's Tire Company Thank You ... Very Much" nonprofit organization that gives cash to students who write letters about influential people in their lives. The program is about a year old.
» Williams started at Lex Brodie's in 1986 as a gas attendant and worked his way up to the top. He is a marathon runner, though he ran the marathon in the past two years without training. He now trains for the Tin Man in the morning.
» The company is looking at opening its fifth Oahu station, in Kaneohe. However, at the same time, Lex Brodie's corporate parent, Finova Group Inc. of Arizona, is winding down and liquidating assets.
Answer: The last that we had the discussion, the company wasn't technically being aggressively sold.
They found that they've got a company that's got a great reputation. Its local management team makes the majority of the day-to-day management decisions.
They've explored options of continuing to hold onto the companies that are doing well. Why should they be in a hurry to sell them?
Q: What's your history with the company?
A: I started as attendant in December 1986 at the Queen Street location. There was also a Waipahu location at the time. I was going to school at Roosevelt. I had a part-time job to begin with.
As soon as I graduated, I went straight to being a tire changer. I graduated in 1987. When I started working here, I had actually dropped out of high school.
I had moved into my car. I kind of found myself living on my own my junior year in high school. My senior year I was living with a classmate. That arrangement came to an end. I was working at a fast-food restaurant, and knew I couldn't support myself part-time there.
So I decided I had to find full-time employment. So I dropped out of Roosevelt, moved into my car and quit the fast-food restaurant looking for full time employment. It all kind of fell into place.
The manager of the restaurant's husband was the manager at Lex Brodie's.
I actually had another friend who lived in a house in Pacific Heights whose parents didn't live there any more. He offered for me to live there $100 a month.
Once I was able to go back to Roosevelt, I worked it out with my teachers to take the classes I needed in the morning, then I would go to Lex Brodie's. When I started with the company, I was a homeless teenager living out of his car. Nobody can say "I've got all this against me." It's kind of a good story to tell people.
Co-workers know you've been there and done that and when I make decisions, they know I'm sympathetic to their needs because I know what they're going through.
I was a tire changer for three years. Lex used to keep track of every tire everybody changed, and posted the No. 1 tire changer. For just about every month, I was No. 1 tire changer.
The general manager would tell customers that changing tires was training for the marathon for me because I would run from car to car.
After tire changer, I went to alignment shop. One day, one of the other alignment techs never came in. So that one day in Waipahu, I did 42 alignments by myself, and that's an unheard of number. Typical is around 20. But that day I did. I punched in early and didn't take lunch.
You couldn't do it every day.
I did that for four years. Then they promoted me to salesperson.
I was in sales for roughly four years and from there I was promoted to assistant manager and later manager at Waipahu, around the mid-1990s. In 2002, I became company general manager.
Q: What helped you climb the ladder?
A: The foundations were created from my father's upbringing. He drove a real strict work ethic into me. He always said you have to be worth twice as much as you get paid and he believed it. That's your job security.
So I always strove to work as hard as I could. That and always trying to work harder than the guys next to me, and I was always careful never to make enemies and burn any bridges.
You always try to never get into any confrontations. I'm a Caucasian, around all local boys, but I was able to fit in really well. Don't make any enemies and use your people skills.
The third thing was always to take advantage of lucky breaks.
How would I know that being a gas boy would be my lucky break? When Brodie sold company in 1990, that eventually opened up management opportunities.
Q: Tell us about the nonprofit awards.
A: We have been able to get some quality co-sponsors. In the previous two months, the winners of the award were from the outer islands.
One of the sponsors, George's Aviation, flew us to the Big Island and Kauai by charter to go to schools to present the awards.
We put the families up in Sheraton Moana Surfrider, went to the Perry and Price show, got public service announcements on Channel 2. "Tiny TV" shows it on TV. A lot of that is co-sponsorship.
Last October Lex turned 90. We threw a 90th birthday party at John Dominis.
While we were doing that, we were thinking about what we could do to carry on his legacy.
When he retired, he got into the Board of Education. Over the years, he saw the quality of applicants coming through the door deteriorate.
So as we were planning the party ... between me, Bill Gray and Bob Sigall, we came up with the "Thank You Very Much" award.
The whole idea was to have school children in grades four to 12 write letters to people in their life that they wish to thank.
And those letters were to be mailed to the person they were written to, but each class would pick the best five and the best five would be sent to us and we would pick a winner once a month. It's a pretty impressive glass marble award and the class gets a $200 cash prize.
The effect on the winners, the parents ... you display what benefit there is by saying, "Thank you."
As I've learned in customer service, sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference. That's what we're trying to show.
This year we got letters from over 100 schools, on all the major islands.