Founder of Discount Tire in Michigan dies

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Bruce T. Halle, founder and chairman of Discount Tire and an influential Eastern Michigan University alumnus and philanthropist, died on Thursday at the age of 87.

Officials at the company headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, said Halle died in his sleep but didn’t immediately release the cause of death.

“I speak on behalf of all who knew Bruce in that he will be dearly missed,” Discount Tire’s CEO Michael Zuieback said in a statement.

Halle founded his first Discount Tire store in Ann Arbor in 1960, with just six tires to sell, according to an obituary that appeared Thursday in the university publication EMU. The store’s long-running TV commercial, which first aired in 1975, showed an old lady returning an unwanted tire by tossing it through a store glass window.

He started the business as a way to support his wife and three young children and chose the name because it implied customers could get a deal on a tire.

Halle rented an old plumbing supply building, built counter tops, repainted the sign outside and was the store’s only employee — serving as the tire technician, cleaning crew, salesman and accountant.

It was three days before Halle had his first customer and a week before he made a sale. His original inventory consisted of two new tires and four retreads.

Zuieback said Halle “established a simple business ethos: Treat others how you want to be treated, always give the customer a good deal; surprise the customer with unexpected benefits like clean bathrooms, free snow tire changes or free flat repairs; build your customer base through word of mouth; and have fun.”

Discount Tire moved its headquarters to the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale in 1987. The company grew and now has 975 in 34 states with more than 20,000 employees.

It is listed as the nation’s largest tire and wheel retailer on Forbes’ 2017 list of America’s Largest Private Companies.

Halle graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 1956, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He delayed school to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.

Halle is remembered at EMU for creating endowments to support a broad array of campus initiatives including The Halle Library; the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation Social Justice Fellowship; the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship; the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation Social Justice Scholars; and the Bruce T. Halle Endowed Scholarship in the College of Business.

“He was a wonderful human being,” said Jill Hunsberger, associate vice president for advancement at EMU. “In conversations you would have with Mr. Halle, you would learn that he believed in his employees, and how well he took care of them. You just really knew that he was trying to make the world a better place.”

He and wife Diane were known in art circles for their collection of Latin American art, according to an obituary that appeared Thursday in ARTnews. The publication called him a “mainstay” of their annual list of “Top 200 Collectors” and noted that Halle contributed money to art museums and funded exhibitions across the country.

He is survived by his wife, Diane, and four children, three siblings and seven grandchildren.

Funeral plans were pending.

The Associated Press contributed