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Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Mike Skoropad: Hi, my name is Mike and I am the co-founder and CEO of online tire retailers United Tires. I built my company up from selling tires that I bought on Craigslist out of my garage in 2016 to making over $8,000,000 in revenue in 2021 so far.
I am based in Chicago, moving to the USA from Ukraine when I was six years old.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Mike Skoropad: I was unable to afford college, and did not have the best guidance when it came to other career options. For me, it always felt like a case of either working a low-paying job that I did care about or trying to start my own business. The lack of options was the main motivation for me to become an entrepreneur.
Although I always wanted to work for myself, I never envisioned myself being the CEO of a company with more than a handful of people. Right now I have 32 employees, if you had told me this five years ago then I definitely would not have believed you.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Mike Skoropad: My main source of inspiration was seeing other companies in my space with the exact same business model doing well. My attitude was always: “If they can do it, then so can I”.
Something I would recommend is to try and connect with business leaders who are in an “adjacent” space to you, so there is a lot of overlap between what you do, but you are not in direct competition. These are the best people to learn from as the lack of competition between you and them means that they can be relatively open about how they operate.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Mike Skoropad: Our journey has seen us start selling tires out of my garage, then transitioning into a local car parts retailer, and then become an e-commerce store.
By far the biggest difficulty has been delegation. On several occasions, we had swelled in demand that we could not fulfill because everything had to go through me. I was working 20 hours a day and I was still creating an untenable bottleneck.
Creating the processes and finding the people to delegate tasks properly is a full-time job in itself, and not something that can be done if you are already neck-deep in the day-to-day running of your operations. Therefore I learned that I needed to back myself and have the bravery to delegate with the expectation that I would have the business required to pay people’s salaries and justify the creation of these processes. In a way, confidence in yourself and your business is a skill that needs to be learned.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Mike Skoropad: We sell new and used tires online.
Our business lives and dies on relationships with suppliers, as this is how we can ensure that we have access to the best products and can offer the most competitive prices. My main job is therefore finding opportunities for new supplier relationships and nurturing current ones. This is something that I have been particularly good at as our business has grown, and I still believe that I would struggle to find someone who can do this job to my level.
I have split our company into three departments: growth, logistics, and supplier relationships. While I operate as the Head of Supplier Relationships I have a Head of Growth and a Head of Logistics who reports to me and I still take a hands-on approach with recruiting in all three departments.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Mike Skoropad: The person who takes ultimate responsibility for the success of the company. There is no further “level of blame” for them.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Mike Skoropad: Since I founded the company and built it from scratch, the process has always felt like a natural one as we grew. It is only in the last 3 years that I have really felt like a “CEO” when there are vast swathes of the business that I have very little involvement in. What has surprised me most is how unstructured my work has become. For years I worked according to very rigid processes, essentially doing the same four or five things and trying to optimize them as much as possible.
Now my job is to look for innovations, and a lot of it is spent networking and learning, rather than doing “busier” types of work.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Mike Skoropad: For me being a CEO is all about doubling down on your strengths and getting other people on board to “fill in the gaps” and facilitate you spending as much of your time as possible doing what you do best. For example, I know my products inside out, and where all the best suppliers and opportunities for new suppliers are. This is what got me to where I am now. Therefore my job as a CEO is to get the right people to manage the marketing, sales, and fulfillment of my company, so I can focus on these things without having to think too much about the details of other parts of the business.
You won’t have gotten to the position of being a CEO by accident, so as a CEO you should do everything in your power to accentuate what got you there and take the focus away from everything else.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Mike Skoropad: The most difficult decision I made was the closing down of two of our physical stores to help facilitate our transition from a brick and mortar retailer to an online retailer. Although some of the staff at those stores did transition into logistics roles, some did not, and letting these people go was tough. I also took a lot of pride in providing a local service and being embedded in a community. There was therefore a sense of loss when we went online.
This decision allowed us to scale our operations nationwide and saw us quadruple our revenue in one year. We went from being a small chain that only people local to West Chicago would know about to one of the biggest retailers in our industry.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Mike Skoropad: Success is getting the right balance between financial security, health, and quantity of positive social interactions right. This exact balance varies from individual to individual and is fluid over time.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Mike Skoropad: I’m quite a quiet person but have always had a very strong work ethic and therefore think that I can naturally lead by example in a business setting. I was bought up to treat everyone politely and with respect and I think getting basic things like that right go a long way in being a good leader.
The most important thing that I have learned is how crystal clear your communications need to be when delegating work. A process being simple in your head does not necessarily mean that it is easy for others to follow, and as a process involves more people the simpler and more straightforward it needs to be in order to be executed well consistently.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Mike Skoropad: Given that we sell online, we have to operate around the clock. Therefore our biggest challenge with the pandemic was allowing employees who are parents to have the time off work required to take care of their children while schools were closed.
I made it a policy to give parents at our company priority when it came to work schedules in our warehouse and gave our non-parent employees bonuses for the lack of flexibility in their hours for that period of time. A business will never run smoothly if employees feel resentment at their employer, and I think that this won a lot of goodwill over a difficult period.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Mike Skoropad: You have gotten to be a CEO because there are certain things that you are exceptionally good at. Try to put things in place so you can focus as much time as possible on these things.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Mike Skoropad: Haha, nice question…I don’t know how to play any musical instruments despite being an avid collector of vinyl so I guess learning the guitar.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Mike Skoropad: ‘A Tale of Tires’
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Mike Skoropad for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Mike Skoropad or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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