(From the Oct. 31, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
WASHINGTON—A year after Harvey Brodsky was fired from his longtime position as managing director of the Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau and founded a competing organization, both Brodsky's group and TRIB say they are doing well.
TRIB continues to have more than 400 members, as well as a new website, revamped financial structure and other features, according to David Stevens, the new TRIB managing director.
The Retread Tire Association, which Brodsky founded three weeks after his dismissal from TRIB, surpassed the 200-member mark Oct. 1.
There seems to be considerable overlap in TRIB and RTA membership, people in the retread industry say—but not for attribution. They also believe that overlap is likely to remain, given the different strengths of the two groups.
“I've really enjoyed it,” Stevens, 44, said of his first year as TRIB managing director. “It's unique for me to come into an industry whose depth of expertise is so strong.”
Stevens came to TRIB with 20 years of public relations experience with such companies as MCI, AOL, FirstUSA and eTrade. He readily admits he had no knowledge of the tire industry when he took his new job.
Stevens said he has enjoyed the learning experience.
“Before, I worked in industries where the industry experts had six years of experience,” he said. “Now, I pick up the phone and talk to people who've been in the industry 20 or 30 years.”
Stevens was a classmate of Mike Berra Jr., outgoing president of the Tire Industry Association, at Trinity University in San Antonio. Stevens insists this had nothing to do with his selection as TRIB managing director.
“I was one of three or four finalists, and I went through the same process of interviews as the others,” he said. “In the end, the TRIB board of directors selected me unanimously.”
Moving the offices of TRIB from the West Coast to the East was also a good idea, according to Stevens.
“Most of our members are on the South and East Coasts,” he said. “For example, Goodyear had a retreading event at its plant in Danville, Va. Instead of flying across the country, I was able to drive there. I can also go to TIA whenever I need to, and I have a relationship with the RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association).”
It has been a continuous learning process, according to Stevens.
“This first year I've been to a lot of trade shows, analyzing which ones are the right places for us to be,” he said. “I've been working a lot on what we should emphasize, and on which trade shows we and our members got a return on our investment.”
Stevens has also spent a lot of time redesigning the TRIB website to make it more user-friendly and contain more information about the retreading industry. He spoke of a bill recently introduced in the Michigan legislature by state Rep. Douglas Geiss which would slap a $5 fee on every retread sold in the state to pay for the cleanup of roadside tire debris.
“If Rep. Geiss had gone to our website first, he would have seen the bill is totally unfair,” he said.
Stevens plans to expand the technical offerings available via the website, as well as vocational information to motivate young people to consider retreading as a career.
In the coming year he will look into adding mobile applications. He also has stepped up considerably the organization's spot notices for members about casings, equipment and other supplies.
“When I started at TRIB, they were on a weekly schedule for spot notices,” he said. “I said, 'Why are we waiting a week? We should send out notices every day.' ”
At the same time, Stevens wants to target who gets the emails and other TRIB information. “It costs us money to send stuff to people, so if they don't want it, we don't want to send it,” he said.
When asked about his future plans for TRIB, Stevens said it all goes back to the bureau's mission as a forum for retreaders.
“When members are writing their checks to us, are they getting value for the money they're investing with us?” he asked. He plans to give an affirmative answer to that question through the revamped site and by reinforcing TRIB's standing as a repository of retreading information.
Stevens also wants to provide information on issues TRIB hasn't considered before, such as the state-to-state differences in regulations about buffing dust.
TRIB continues to offer retread plant tours to interested lawmakers and government officials, and has been in contact with officials of the International Trade Commission in the agency's ongoing studies on facilitating overseas trade in U.S. retreads and other manufactured goods, according to Stevens.
“We're a very U.S.-focused group, but the market for retreads keeps growing in countries such as China and India,” he said. “We also signed up new members at the Latin American and Caribbean Tire Expo.”
The upstart: The RTA
Brodsky, 75, was the most familiar voice in retreading and for TRIB for three decades, until the TRIB board terminated his contract in Oct. 5, 2010. The reasons for this action depend on who you talk to, and not all of them have been publicly discussed.
Brodsky wasted no time in founding the RTA, announcing its creation on Oct. 22.
“It's much, much different,” Brodsky said about being the head of his own start-up association as compared with TRIB. “I feel like the old spiritual: 'Free at last, free at last, I thank God I'm free at last.' ”
He has nothing bad to say about his former employers. “I had a board of directors, we had disputes, and they were within their rights to do what they did,” he said.
Some of the disputes are over facts, however. For example, regarding, Stevens' complaint that notices about casings and equipment, were sent only once a week. Brodsky said that was neither his idea nor his choice.
“I invented these memos when email was first invented,” he said. “There's always been a problem with retreaders getting casings, so I would send out emails about who had casings and who wanted them.
“That was the beginning of TRIB becoming the largest casing clearinghouse in the world. Now I see everything TRIB does, and I see everything they do. RTA has far surpassed them. We are now the biggest casing clearinghouse in the world.”
It was the TRIB board, according to Brodsky, who insisted he send out only one casing memo a week, which was the frequency when he left.
“They also said they didn't want me to put prices in memos,” he said. “Well, if you're a retreader and you send me a request for casings at 8 a.m., you'll get an answer by 9.”
These days Brodsky sends his memos to everyone on his email list, and it's a rare day RTA members don't see an RTA message in their email boxes—usually more than one.
RTA memos in the past few weeks have included announcements about new members; notices about casing requests and availability, including one about a company in India seeking to import casings; and alerts about the Michigan retread tax bill.
Also sent out was a special update about Gus Hawkinson—a close friend of Brodsky and an important innovator in the retreading industry—who has been an invalid at his home near Las Vegas since a serious illness a few years ago.
Brodsky described a recent visit to Hawkinson. “When I left, I said, 'Gus, you made my day,' ” he said. “Gus said, 'Harvey, you made my year.' ''
Brodsky's anecdote about Hawkinson illustrates his bond with his membership, a bond that is not just professional but personal. He makes it a point to call at least three members every day, and to take copious notes about what's going on with each one, he said.
Until a recent injury, Brodsky kept up the same breakneck round of travels to meetings and conferences worldwide for RTA that he did for TRIB.
Once he recovers, he said, he'll resume the same schedule.