Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rob Gross, CEO of Monro Muffler

Robert G. Gross:
"Since Day One I've Wanted this Chair"

By: Joseph W. Norman & Ryan Dusseault

For more from Bigger Impact co-founder, Joseph Norman, visit
Enjoy the read about...Rob Gross...below! Thanks for your readership!

Robert G. Gross is the CEO of Monro Muffler Brake, Inc. headquartered in Rochester, New York. A trained public accountant (with a CPA and an MBA in accounting), Robert got his first business experience at Ernst & Winnie, after graduating from the University of Buffalo. He used his time there to develop strengths in strategic planning and financial analysis which he has used to turn around a multitude of retail type companies. Always searching for the “high risk, high reward” opportunities, Robert has consistently pushed himself to grow. His success brought him to Monro, where his skill set has put the company at the top of its class among auto service stores. The company currently has about 750 stores in a geographic footprint of 17 states.

Robert Gross VIP Fact Sheet:

- Born in Rochester, New York

- Graduated from Brighton High School in 1976

- Passed up a job at Pratt & Whitney after college making nearly 50% more, to gain the
knowledge and experience of the public accounting industry at Ernst & Winnie

- Loves to play golf and belongs to the Irondequoit Country Club

- Has a lovely wife, a brother, a Jack Russell named Ruby, and no children

- Favorite candy bar is a Hershey Bar with Almonds, because he cannot eat Butterfingers

- Smokes cigars, but has a target to quit by next January

- Maintains an incredible work ethic, but with a relaxed attitude and personality that can put anyone at easy

- Taught accounting while attending college to pay the bills

- Serves on the Board for the Boy Scouts of America and is active with United Way

VIP: What has your experience been like turning companies around?

Robert: “Usually we get rid of the management (chuckle). I think I have the benefit of having a strong finance background and running the stores. That combination lets you look at a business and see where the opportunities are to make money. I think the other big benefit is my personality lends itself to smaller companies like Monro and the other companies I have been at. I’m not really pretty and I’m pretty relaxed. I can go into stores or shops and talk to technicians and what not. When you leave they say, “That guy is almost normal for a “VIP” CEO. So they want to work for you.”
“My style or approach probably doesn’t play as well in a five billion dollar company where there is more politics and you’ve got to be a little bit more polished.”

VIP: Have you always had this relaxed demeanor?

Robert: It’s like anything - you evaluate your skill set and decide how much you want to sell out and where you want to go. Regardless, whatever you want to do 1) you need to love what you’re doing because you’re going to spend 80 hours a week doing it and 2) you need to be objective about what your skill set is.

Mine early on, I didn’t like public accounting, it was very bureaucratic. Getting into smaller companies – they kind of leave you alone and you can do things the way you want. For me, that is the important thing. I don’t mind failing if someone does it better than me, but I don’t want to fail because someone had me do something I didn’t want to do.

VIP: What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?

Robert: Strategy – the company Monro was a service operator, we now have a 116 tire stores. So, I think I understand the market and the industry we’re in and how to create a business model that is profitable and creates a competitive advantage to move the company forward. And, I understand how to make money and I have a great personality (chuckle).

VIP: What has your experience been with merger and acquisition activity?

Robert: With American Can, my boss went back to start Sears specialty merchandising group. I got the acquisition work there with a lot of smart people while at a relatively young age. Eye Care Centers in San Antonio, Texas, had poor management. Sears started spending money crazily and started losing twenty million a year. My boss said, ‘You bought it, why don’t you go down and fix it.’ It was one of those high risk, high reward situations. It was an opportunity for me because even if I screwed up, no one would know. And if it went well, then that would be great. It went well.

VIP: What are some of your goals?

Robert: I think I have about five more years here to hopefully develop people internally to move the company forward and take over for me. The company needs developed people so the company does better after you leave. When the leader leaves, if the company does poorly, then that is a huge fault of the leader. In five years, I see the company about twice the size at about a billion dollars in sales.

VIP: What are your thoughts on expansion of Monro?

Robert: We can get three times as big as we are and not leave our current geographic footprint (17 states). We’re number one or two in most of our markets, and we have five to seven percent market share. No one has a dominate position.

VIP: How is the acquisition environment now?

Robert: One, five, and ten store operations are going out of business so that’s what we buy. We’re here to help.

VIP: What are some of your favorite foods?

Robert: Steak and potatoes and veal parm. Lobster is okay. I don’t have a problem eating but I’m not a big greens eater. Outside of salad, I don’t eat broccoli, spinach, or any of that crap. I don’t blame that on my mother.

VIP: What are some of your favorite books? Or, books that have been influential?

Robert: Harvey Mackey’s, Swim with the Sharks. The Essays of Warren Buffett, by Laurence Cunningham. And, we give out Dr. Spencer Johnson’s, Who Moved My Cheese? to new managers.

People are constantly sending me books on leadership, so maybe they’re trying to tell me something.

The last really long book I read was the Enron book – again, corporate governance and integrity is very important. It was interesting to see how that came afoot.

VIP: What are your thoughts on change in your company, or previous companies?

Robert: It (Who Moved My Cheese?) helps focus people because a lot of the companies I walked into were immediately changing things. Most people think change is bad. People think they need to change in a public company. When someone has been failing, if we keep doing what they were doing, then they go under. At Pro Care, we had to change about 80% of the people because we tried to change what they were doing. People said, ‘We don’t do it that way.’ We said, ‘Well the way you did it didn’t work, so we own you now.’ Change is difficult.

VIP: Who are some people that have been influential in your life?

Robert: My father certainly, my wife, and some of the business leaders and successful people that were in business when I was growing up. Also, some of my bosses.

My father was an advertising writer for Xerox for a number of years while my mother sold real estate from time to time. My father was one of those guys that made sure he went to all of our little league games. Family was important, and career not so. He probably paid the price for that, but I came out fairly normal and now he’s got me around to support him. Good move on his part.

VIP: What is some advice you would give someone coming out of college?

Robert: I think there is always going to be someone smarter than you - so if you fail, have that be the reason. You are in control of your destiny because if you’re 80% as smart as someone else, but you’re working twice as hard, you win.

It also depends on what your incentive is – there is nothing wrong with wanting to be in mid-management. There are tradeoffs - in my situation then you’ve got to work really hard to get here. You’re not doing other things that you might enjoy and it takes a toll on family life. My wife had a big job, so there is more an appreciation for it.

If your family life is going too well, then your work life isn’t going well and if you’re working too hard, you’re going to screw up your family life. You’ve got to decide what you want to be – from day one I wanted this chair. But, we have 4,000 employees and one of us has this chair. That doesn’t mean anyone else is less motivated, they just have different priorities. Understanding what your priorities are early on is important to be happy. Whether you’re making fifty grand a year, a hundred grand a year, or ridiculous money like I make, there are going to be trade-offs to get there and you’ve got to figure out what is going to make you happy. The rest is irrelevant.

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