Mike Rippey is probably the last person you would have expected to become an entrepreneur. When he was in college, he found business courses boring even though everyone told him that he should take them.
He liked history, so he decided to take more history courses and even switched his major to history. When he graduated from Notre Dame, he came to the conclusion that he had learned all he needed to know to become an entrepreneur. And while he had some failures along the way, he is now in his 15th year of growing a small automotive radiator distributor that he purchased back in 1994. 1-800-Radiator has grown from seven employees to more than 1,500 people in his network.
Rippey, the company’s CEO, places a high emphasis on making each employee feel like he or she is a key part of the success of the business. There are no preferred parking spots and everybody in the company, including top management, goes by his or her first name.
While the culture has remained steady, the business has changed dramatically. Rippey saw an opportunity to move away from a low-margin distribution system with company-owned stores to a franchise network with a complete emphasis on software technology. He wanted to dominate the auto parts industry without owning any inventory, something that no auto parts distributor had ever done.
It was a tough road at times to get the new model working, but Rippey and the company finally began to turn the corner in 2009. The company is now being run by a group of young college graduates in their early 30s. These young professionals came to Rippey straight out of college as entry-level call center reps and moved their way up the ladder, maintaining the company’s youthful spirit.
How to reach: 1-800-Radiator, (707) 747-7400 or www.1800Radiator.com