Les Schwab: The Value of Doing the Right Thing


[Photo from Les Schwab Tire Centers]

“Our people are our most valuable asset.”

How many businesses have you heard utter that statement? I’ve heard it many times, however, I know most are merely paying lip service. Most businesses, if they even care to utter the above statement, in reality do not value their people or partners as much as they could or should. Other priorities such as an owner’s own personal interests or shareholder interests are often at the fore of their mind.

A company’s true values are what separates it from other companies. When you highly value the humans that make your company and relationships with other humans: customers, suppliers, communities, etc., and your results will take care of themselves. It’s common sense and seems easy, but that often isn’t the case.

Only rarely do you find a company that truly is built around building their people and living their values. In reality these companies do truly value their employees and other stakeholders. One of those rarities that we pointed out in our book was Les Schwab Tire Centers.

Below is a rare compilation of speeches and talks given by Les Schwab himself, and one by his daughter Margie Denton to their employees. Throughout they stress Les Schwab’s initial vision, building people, and all of the values that have and continue to make Les Schwab Tire Centers a great organization.

Building People

  • "Before I started in business I did have the idea that I would attempt to work through building people."
  • "Dad’s original dream - His desire to grow his business by sponsoring employees. Providing them the opportunity to become successful."
  • "I’ve harped to store managers for years: make all your people successful people."
  • "The heart of our company is our employee and how we treat them will reflect on how they treat our customer. If the one is suffering, so will the other."
  • "Build people that is the most important part of your job. We can whip the world if we have the right people."

Thinking Independently

  • "I’ve said many times that if we follow the programs and policies created by other people, they make money. When we create and follow or own programs, we make money."
  • "If we follow, we become weak. If we create, we remain strong."
  • "Programs and people that’s what build our business."

Maintaining Values

  • "Our values must never be corrupted."
  • "I’ve talked for years about two simple words that have played such an important part in our success. Those words are truth and honesty. We expect complete honesty. In fact it is our policy for 43 years. You steal one dollar and you are fired. You lose part of your trust, you lose your bonus, you lose your job, you lose your self-respect."
  • "We must keep telling the stories and teach how important the programs are. We can’t let profits and percentages come before values, principles and the history of our company."
  • "You can’t talk about the people who fail you. You talk about the successful people who succeed. Failures don’t make a successful company. Successful people make a successful company."
  • "You know we have a tremendous opportunity to continue to create, one of the most unique companies in America. And it’s all just plain common sense."
  • "As our company continues to grow, we need to also value innovation. That is why the visions of our company today are so important."
  • "Our biggest challenge for the future will be just that, to continue to be original, to continue to be independent, to continue to be creative, to continue to stick to the basics and continue to rub the big rubber company’s nose in the ground."

100-Year Plan - Working Together

  • "My desire and it is a strong desire is to see that the company goes on for several more generations."
  • "We have no intentions of selling this company. It is our goal to keep this company family owned for as long as possible. Why? It’s mainly because of you. You are out there busting your butts to get those sales and to meet those percentages. My family and I have a huge amount of respect for you and your enthusiasm, desire, your drive and your professionalism."
  • "Our company is not for sale and it’s gonna be here several generations after I am gone."
  • "I want leaders who are not afraid to face the challenges and not afraid to challenge the future."
  • "The future of the Les Schwab Tire Centers is in your hands. What you do with it will be the gauge of your success in life."
  • "My wish for you is that you achieve all your dreams."
  • "I’m so proud of you. Let’s continue just what we’ve doing and there will be no end in what we can accomplish together."

Ultimately, Les Schwab Tire Centers has succeeded by following their motto “do the right thing” with all stakeholders regardless of the short-term costs. Such a value system is one that is not only transferable to other industries but is bullet proof in creating a successful, sustainable business. Do the right thing for years and people attach a high value on that trust. In the long-term, that trust is priceless and pays invaluable dividends. Competitors will have a tough time copying such trust.

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