Steve Lange says enthusiasm is a key to business success. And if you
don't feel enthusiastic, become a great actor, the former Tony's Tyre
Service owner says. It's a lesson he learnt from How to Win Friends
and Influence People author Dale Carnegie about 20 years ago.
A "larrikin" as a youngster, Lange lived in Cambridge and says he was
kicked out of school at the age of 15. By 16, he was in a bit of
trouble and realised he needed to make a change. He hitch-hiked to
Hastings with nothing but a backpack and $20. He decided then that
whatever he did, he needed to give it "100 per cent".
He got a job at a Firestone tyre retreading factory in Hastings and
worked an extra three hours unpaid every day to learn everything he
could about the business. By the time he was 21 he was foreman. He had
a lot to do with retailers and realised it could be done better. That
triggered the desire to own his own business.
In 1982, now 23, Lange bought the original Tony's store in Palmerston
North, with business partner Phil Jones. They each raised $10,000 but
needed a further $25,000 which Lange ended up borrowing from his
accountant at an interest rate of 28 per cent. Five years later Lange
bought out his business partner, and a month later the sharemarket
crashed. "Sales went south, so did margins."
Interest rates soared then to 23 per cent and in 1991 his bank decided
to call in a significant loan to the business. Lange leapt into
action. He got on a plane and went to see the Westpac chief executive
in Auckland in person. He told him that before they called in the loan
they needed to actually take a good look at his business. They
listened, and ended up lending the business more money.
By the time he sold the business to Bridgestone four years ago, Tony's
Tyre Service was the largest independently-owned tyre company in New
Zealand, employing 170 people, with sales of $28 million and 20 stores
countrywide, five of which were in Christchurch.
He is involved in several startup businesses, including a cafe in
Palmerston North, a water treatment company, a used car yard, a
finance company and a fibreglass chimney company. He has also invested
in property, a restaurant and bar in Wellington.