TTHE busi­ness of selling tyres will never be as sexy as the busi­ness of selling cars. Aes­thet­i­cally, it is hard for some­thing round and black to com­pete with shiny and curvy sheet-me­tal.

But to en­thu­si­asts and peo­ple like Michael Tan who know bet­ter, a car is noth­ing without its tyres. After all, the tyres are the only con­nec­tion be­tween a car and the road.

Michael, how­ever, didn’t be­gin his ca­reer at a tyre com­pany. The 53-year-old started his ca­reer in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try in 1990 as a work­shop man­ager for Exk­lu­siv Auto. In 1995, Michael moved to In­tra-Mo­tors as a trainer for the Rover brand, where he also had the op­por­tu­nity to work as a sales­man. Two years later, he was work­ing


at Fiat as a sales man­ager.

Michael’s move to Bridgestone Sin­ga­pore only came in 1998, when he was first as­signed to the tech­ni­cal ser­vice depart­ment. In 2014, he was ap­pointed as the firm’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor. Michael sat down with Torque to chat about the chal­lenges fac­ing the tyre in­dus­try, and tells us why there is still room for the brand to grow in Sin­ga­pore, de­spite the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a zero ve­hi­cle growth rate.

Have you al­ways wanted to work in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try?

Yes. I’ve al­ways loved cars and any­thing me­chan­i­cal. When I was young, my par­ents were very wor­ried about me. Es­pe­cially when I did things like dis­man­tle the TV! [Laughs]

Do you have an en­gi­neer­ing back­ground?

Yes, I stud­ied au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy in the US. In fact, my dream was to work in a fac­tory that built For­mula 1 en­gines.

Did you ever want to drive an F1 car?

I’m more in­ter­ested in en­gi­neer­ing than driv­ing!

You tried your hand at sales. How did you find that ex­pe­ri­ence?

I saw sales as a chance to share my pas­sion for the cars with the cus­tomers. It was a very good ex­pe­ri­ence for me, be­cause I wanted to learn ev­ery as­pect of the auto in­dus­try. It made me un­der­stand ex­actly what sales­peo­ple have to go through.

You first joined Bridgestone as part of its tech­ni­cal ser­vice depart­ment. What were your du­ties then?

It was pri­mar­ily re­search and de­vel­op­ment in the field. We tested and an­a­lysed how cer­tain tyres per­formed in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions in the 12 coun­tries un­der our purview. Back then, I trav­elled so much that half the time, I wasn’t even in Sin­ga­pore!

What chal­lenges do you face in your cur­rent po­si­tion?

Man­ag­ing peo­ple is the most dif­fi­cult task for any leader. If you have 35 staff, those are 35 dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties you have to man­age. The em­ploy­ees are the back­bone of a com­pany. Balanc­ing whether to be “hard” or “soft” on them is tricky, es­pe­cially in light of the need to in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity.

As for ex­ter­nal chal­lenges, we’re in a coun­try with zero per­cent car growth, but there are still many new tyre brands en­ter­ing the mar­ket. That said, there is still room for us to ex­pand our mar­ket share in the higher-end seg­ments.

Why are stan­dard wheel and tyre sizes get­ting big­ger?

Tyre man­u­fac­tur­ers are re­spond­ing to cus­tomer de­mands for a greater va­ri­ety of choices. Also, car dealers typ­i­cally use free up­grades to big­ger wheels as a sweet­ener to close the sale.

How do you sup­port your dealers?

Apart from en­sur­ing that we have read­ily avail­able stock to meet de­mand, we also per­form brand­ing and mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to ed­u­cate and at­tract cus­tomers.

We’re also the only tyre sales com­pany (co-owned by the man­u­fac­turer) with tech­ni­cal en­gi­neers, who pro­vide sup­port to both dealers and end-users.

How do you up­sell to cus­tomers who just in­sist on get­ting the cheap­est tyres?

They are a mi­nor­ity, but the sad truth is that you can­not change their minds, not even with facts.

In­stead of at­tempt­ing to con­vince these peo­ple, we’re try­ing to win over driv­ers who are rel­a­tively well-in­formed and are look­ing for qual­ity.

What was the first car you owned?

The first car I owned was a 1987 Chevro­let van when I was in the US. I love big cars. If I could, I would have a dou­ble-decker bus as my per­sonal ve­hi­cle!

I used to own mo­tor­cy­cles, too. I re­cently sold my 1995 Suzuki 400 In­truder. Pre­vi­ously, I also owned a Kawasaki Ninja EX250 and a 50cc Honda scooter.

Michael wanted to own a Hum­mer, but de­cided oth­er­wise be­cause it would be too dif­fi­cult to park in a multi-storey carpark.

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