MAKing It: Changing tires, changing hands

SPONSORED: Alyeska Tire enters its second generation of caring for cars, trucks -- and people.

Presented by First National Bank Alaska

Wheels and tires, fan belts and brake pads -- automotive services are Alyeska Tire’s bread and butter.

But the company’s true passion isn’t cars and trucks -- it’s people, especially the dedicated employees who keep its shops firing on all cylinders.

“We are a business that concentrates on people,” said Craig Wortham, who co-owns Alyeska Tire with his wife, Bethany. “We pride ourselves on being a place for an individual to thrive and blossom into the best version of themselves.”

It’s a commitment that goes beyond snow tires and oil changes and one that is now two generations strong.

An accidental success

Alyeska Tire was established “quite by accident,” according to Wortham. When his parents, Jerry and Carla Wortham, opened a used car dealership and auto parts store in Kenai in 1978, they were “looking for an opportunity for their young family and a way to leave their mark,” he said.

“They buckled down, raised their three boys, and built one of the most successful tire companies in the country,” Wortham said. Today the business has eight locations spanning Alaska’s road system, providing tire sales and automotive repair from Fairbanks down to Homer.

Craig Wortham joined the family business shortly after returning home from Boise State University. He came back to Alaska planning to be a teacher. While job-hunting, he agreed to fill in at the Soldotna store, which had recently lost its manager.

“After 12 months, I had doubled the sales in that location and found myself enjoying the challenge,” Wortham said. “One year led into two, and the successes continued to build. I found a passion in the people, both customers and employees, and never really looked back.”

Today, he and Bethany own and operate Alyeska Tire. While the business has grown, expanded, and changed hands from one generation to the next, one thing has stayed constant: An emphasis on people over profit.

‘It’s all about relationships’

Passion for people is at the heart of Alyeska Tire’s success, said Tim Redder of First National Bank Alaska, who has been the company’s banker since 2007. It’s a value First National shares with the Wortham family.

“They put their employees first,” Redder said. “They wholeheartedly believe in taking care of their employees, paying their employees well for the work that they’re doing, and as such, their employees have longevity and loyalty to the company.”

To both generations of Worthams, running the company has been about more than financial gain.

“Profits are secondary to the human aspect of building a successful business,” Craig Wortham said. “It’s about relationships and trust.”

With locations up and down the highway system, a good customer experience hinges on positive interactions with employees. Along with competitive salaries, Alyeska Tire offers a bonus program that gives employees a stake in the business’ success each year.

“The people of Alyeska Tire are the heart and soul of who we are,” Wortham said. “They define us. We believe that they invest in our company by dedicating their time and energy to our success. In turn, we feel it’s important to invest in them.”

People-first in a pandemic

Last year, investment in its employees took on new meaning as Alyeska Tire went the extra mile to ensure a healthy working environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The safety and the well-being of their employees was first and foremost,” Redder said.

Alyeska Tire adopted a company-wide set of safety protocols by requiring face masks, adding new stanchion stations for social distancing, closing for sanitizing after potential workplace exposures, and increasing paid employee sick leave.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we understood that we needed to provide a clean and safe place for our communities to service their vehicles,” Wortham said. “As a company who prioritizes the person over profits, it wasn’t difficult to decide to be COVID-safe.”

In the beginning, he added, it was something of a challenge to get employees accustomed to wearing masks every day. That all changed when the company came face-to-face with the impact of the virus.

“After losing a treasured employee to COVID, it became obvious to the staff what the right thing to do was,” Wortham said.

At times, that has meant standing firm with some customers who have disagreed with the new safety measures.

“We have been called all kinds of names and have been the recipients of some brutal exchanges,” he said. “With that said, we are very proud of our stance and our attempt to be good stewards in the communities we do business. We have had some very positive experiences too, and some sincere exchanges of thanks and appreciation. Our values and our company culture (have) helped us persevere, and I believe Alaska appreciates our efforts.”

As an Alyeska Tire customer himself, Redder said he now makes an extra effort to let the employees know he appreciates the concern for his health and safety.

“When I go in, the employees welcome you, they’re positive; they’re smiling,” Redder said. “I would never know if they’re stressed out.”

That genuine sense of happiness, he added, speaks to the Wortham family’s multigenerational commitment to taking care of the people who work at Alyeska Tire. Redder recalled a recent conversation when he posed a question to Wortham: What motivates him to get up every morning and run his business?

His answer: He is committed to ensuring that his employees can take care of their families.

“He said, ‘Tim, I get to put hats, coats and gloves on the kids of every single one of my employees,’” Redder said. “At the end of the day, they’re a successful company, they’re a profitable company, and it has been that culture that has helped them grow as they have.”

A new generation

Having spent his career working alongside his parents and spouse, Wortham is well acquainted with the challenges and rewards of running a family business.

“Time has taught us to appreciate one another’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We have helped each other become better. There is not much more rewarding than sharing success with those you cherish.”

This year, Alyeska Tire went through the most significant evolution since it first expanded beyond the Kenai-Soldotna area. After 43 years at the business’ helm, Jerry and Carla Wortham stepped down to enjoy a well-earned retirement, and Craig and Bethany Wortham took on the mantle of full ownership.

Running a family business is one thing, and selling it is quite another, even when the sale stays in the family. To help navigate the surprisingly complex process of handing off the company, the Worthams turned to Redder and his team at First National Bank Alaska.

“From our perspective, it was quite a bit of work that we were happy to take on,” Redder said. “As a banker, I did what was best for both the buyer and the seller.”

That meant using a multipronged approach. The team included multiple representatives from First National, Alyeska Tire’s attorney and accountant, and the junior and senior Wortham couples.

“Whenever we at First National work with a customer, of course, we’re not just looking at a loan or a deposit,” Redder said. “We’re looking holistically in order to add value for our customers.”

As a community banker who has relationships with his customers personally and professionally, Redder said he feels a particular responsibility to make sure First National is taking the best possible care of all the businesses and individuals it serves.

“It’s the customer service and the relationships that really set a bank and a banker apart,” Redder said.

The sale ultimately took more than a year to complete -- and while it may have been complex for the bank, it felt seamless to Craig Wortham and his family.

“The process was painless, especially considering the scope and size of the transaction,” Wortham said. “I am not sure they could have made the process any easier. For them, it was clear it was about us and our business and the long-term viability of a mutually beneficial business relationship.”

Critically, he added First National -- which is preparing to celebrate 100 years of shaping tomorrow for Alaska families and businesses in 2022 -- understood the importance of setting Alyeska Tire up for continued growth and success in its second generation of ownership.

“To build what we have built, and to do it with the people you love, that is quite an achievement,” Wortham said. “We are very proud of being able to extend the legacy for another generation.”

First National Bank Alaska has been Alaska’s community bank since 1922. We’re proud to help Alaskans shape a brighter tomorrow by investing in your success as you take the leaps of faith, large and small, that enrich communities across the state.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.