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