Les Schwab was a businessman from the Northwest. Growing up in Washington State, I remember very early on seeing him on the TV, in his cowboy hat, instructing me repeatedly to get to the Les Schwab sign for my free beef. His autobiography Pride in Performance, Keep It Going tells his story of being born poor in Oregon, becoming an orphan at 15 and then living at a boarding house and delivering papers just to get by through high school. Later on, having never changed a flat tire in his life, he bought a single tire franchise and turned that into the billion dollar Les Schwab Tire Centers, by giving away beef.
I read his book in business school and it was a welcome change from what I was learning in the classroom. Schwab believed that the success of his business lay in serving the customer first and that profit would then follow. Service wasn’t a buzz word, but a real promise word, like “free beef”, that he fully planned on living up to. He believed service was the result of training, promoting exclusively from within and nurturing employees over a lifetime. Employees at Les Schwab were paid well, enjoyed a profit sharing program (paid for by 51% of profits returning to fund the program), and were provided health and retirement benefits. His goal was for those who wanted to work hard and have a career at Les Schwab Tire to be able to retire as millionaires. Believing in creating millionaires out of career employees and giving away free beef with every tire purchase were values Schwab fought for, refusing to sell out and go public, and the company remains privately held and still gives out free beef to this day.
If you ever want to buy me something, and don’t know what to get, you can get me an autographed copy of Pride in Performance found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0892881518/ref=dp_olp_collectible?ie=UTF8&qid=1315994602&sr=8-1&condition=collectible . Even if you read this sometime from now, you might still look, it has been there for a while.